What Is the Mechanism Behind Cannabis as a Sleep Aid?

Surveys among regular cannabis users seem to be indicating with greater frequency that the drug is an effective sleep aid. Data points to cannabis offering relief to both insomnia suffers and people who use cannabis to treat another medical condition that interrupts their sleep. Knowing what we know, there is a new effort to understand the mechanism behind cannabis as a sleep aid.

At the heart of that effort are the two most prominent cannabinoids found in cannabis plants: CBD and THC. Studying these two cannabinoids does not eliminate the possibility that other cannabinoids could be in play. There are more than one hundred such cannabinoids, so it is going to be a long time before we study all of them.

  • What the Data Says

Before getting to how cannabis affects the human body, let us talk about the data relating to cannabis as a sleep aid. The Sleep Foundation reports the following, based on several survey studies:

  • 70% of casual young adult cannabis users consume the drug to help them sleep
  • 50% of long-term cannabis users consume the drug to help them sleep
  • 85% of users who consume cannabis for other medical reasons report that it helps them sleep better.

The data cited by the Sleep Foundation seems pretty clear. Even if there aren’t hard-and-fast scientific studies confirming that cannabis helps people sleep, users report that it does. More importantly, they report it at a rather high rate – high enough that the reports deserve more study.

  • How It Might Help

Exactly how cannabis improves sleep is not clear. We can make some educated guesses based on what we know about CBD and THC. Starting with the former, CBD in low doses can make a person more alert. But at higher doses, it tends to make people sleepy. Some regular CBD users say that it helps them feel more relaxed.

As for THC, it usually acts as a sedative. Some people get jacked up when using it, but most people mellow out and relax under its influence. The key to both THC and CBD as a sleep aid are related to how they interact with the human endocannabinoid system, a system that regulates a ton of different biological functions.

CBD and THC may lead to higher levels of hormones known to promote sleep. Likewise, they may further promote sleep by regulating brain chemicals that otherwise keep people awake. Simply put, the two cannabinoids might be able to tell the body that it is time for sleep as opposed to remaining awake.

  • Relieving Other Conditions

Users who consume cannabis for other medical reasons could enjoy better sleep as a result of those other conditions being relieved. Take chronic pain, for example. According to the people behind the Deseret Wellness medical cannabis pharmacy in Park City, UT, managing pain is one of the most common reasons people use cannabis medically.

A chronic pain patient may have trouble sleeping due to an inability to get comfortable. Relieve that patient’s pain and you make it easier for them to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Interestingly enough, PTSD sufferers say that cannabis improves sleep by reducing the frequency and intensity of their nightmares. Bad dreams keep them awake at night. If cannabis can reduce the frequency or intensity of those dreams, PTSD patients should experience better sleep.

A growing body of evidence demonstrates that cannabis can be an effective sleep aid. In some people, the mechanism might be better brain chemical regulation. In others, the mechanism could be relief of other symptoms that keep them awake at night.

Peter Simpson

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