Are you having sleepless nights? You aren’t alone. Roughly 30–35% of adults experience the symptoms of insomnia at least on a temporary basis. These symptoms include the inability to fall or stay asleep, fatigue during the day, mood disturbances, poor memory and the inability to focus. Meanwhile, up to 20% of adults experience longer-lasting insomnia (up to three months), while 10% have chronic and ongoing insomnia.
While there’s a large selection of sleeping pills and other solutions available, many folks find these options don’t work well. Or they don’t like the sometimes unsettling side effects they can encounter. People have reported unusual and out-of-character behavior while on sleeping pills. From racking up high bills online shopping to making embarrassing phone calls or taking the car out for a drive in the middle of the night—while asleep, these side effects can be as bizarre as they are dangerous.
In this article, part of our series geared towards folks new to cannabis, we go over how cannabis offers hope to those suffering from insomnia. The medicinal plant acts as a natural and effective sleep aid that will leave you snoozing instead of sleepwalking. Many patients are already reaping great benefits from this alternative sleeping solution.
Nicole, a 38-year-old writer, yoga teacher and riding therapist, says that cannabis has made a big difference with her insomnia. "My insomnia was really debilitating," she says of her lifelong sleep issues. “If I did fall asleep at all ... I would wake every one-and-half or every three hours. You could almost set a clock to it.”
And lack of sleep was just the beginning for Nicole. “Several times a month, I’d have either sleep paralysis or night terrors, really terrible screaming nightmares where I would wake everyone around me.” she says. The anxiety and guilt over disturbing everyone else’s sleep only made Nicole’s insomnia worse.
Nicole thought about trying cannabis, but in New Jersey, where she’s from, insomnia isn’t a qualifying condition for cannabis use. So, she tried an array of medications—from over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol PM and Benadryl to prescription drugs like Xanax, but nothing seemed to work.
Then, a few years ago, Nicole moved to California and began to experiment. Soon, she found that cannabis was just the medicine she’d been looking for. Finally, she was able to sleep.
“When I take a dose of cannabis, I'm usually asleep within 20 minutes,” Nicole says. “It's a very pleasant feeling of falling asleep.” According to Nicole, she can now sleep through the night about 90% of the time. “When I do wake up, I can usually get back to sleep,” she explains. “So it's been a really significant change.”
Nicole says that cannabis has also helped with her nightmares. “I tend to not recall very much active dreaming when I use it,” she says, adding that the times she’s woken up from nightmares has gone from several times a month to only two or three times in the last few years. Now, Nicole says she’s also seen improvement in other health issues like anxiety and intense premenstrual symptoms.
“Sleep is at the heart of everything,” she says. “It lets you heal from a lot of other issues."
As it turns out, the body’s natural endocannabinoid system (ECS) is key to regulating sleep. When the ECS is stimulated by plant-based cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), it can activate your body’s natural mechanisms for modulating sleep patterns.
Studies show that many patients report falling asleep easier and more quickly after consuming cannabis. In addition, cannabis can decrease episodes of sleep apnea, helping patients sleep more consistently throughout the night.
If you suffer from insomnia and think cannabis might be right for you, the best first step is to talk to a doctor. You can consult with one of HelloMD’s knowledgeable doctors; it's easy, private and 100% online.
There are many cannabis options on the market today. Indicas are traditionally recommended for sleep because they tend to make people sleepy. Others find CBD strains to be most helpful, because they relax the body without many side effects.
In terms of which forms work best, some folks favor edibles, because they stay in your system all night, providing a consistent supply of cannabinoids, thereby helping patients stay asleep. Others prefer smoking flower or vaping extracts because these methods give you a large dose of cannabinoids that affect you almost immediately. This can greatly aid in the process of falling asleep.
Whatever you try, remember that cannabis can affect people differently, so you might need to try a few options before you find the right one for you.
Stay tuned for the next installment of the Cannabis for Newbies guide, where we’ll get into how cannabis can help ease depression.
Photo credit: Matheus Vinicius