Cannabis has long been used as a natural remedy for insomnia and other sleep disorders. In recent years, scientific research has begun to shed light on how cannabis may be able to help people get a better night’s sleep.
Cannabis contains a variety of compounds known as cannabinoids. One of these cannabinoids, called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is thought to be responsible for many of the plant’s psychoactive effects. THC binds to receptors in the brain and body known as cannabinoid receptors.
The binding of THC to cannabinoid receptors affects the release of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that help regulate various functions in the body, including sleep. Studies have shown that THC can increase the release of the neurotransmitter known as GABA, which helps to promote sleep.
In addition to increasing the release of GABA, THC is also thought to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and increase the duration of sleep. One study found that people who used cannabis before bed slept an average of 7.5 hours per night, compared to 6.5 hours for those who did not use cannabis.
The Cycles of Sleep
There are two main types of sleep: REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM. Most people cycle through both types several times during the night.
Non-REM sleep is further divided into three stages:
- Stage 1: This stage is light sleep and you may begin to feel drowsy.
- Stage 2: This stage is deeper sleep and your body temperature begins to drop.
- Stage 3: This is the deepest stage of non-REM sleep and your body temperature continues to drop. This is also the stage where you’re most likely to experience deep, restful sleep.
REM sleep is when you dream. Your eyes move rapidly during this stage of sleep, hence the name “rapid eye movement.”
Most people cycle through non-REM and REM sleep several times throughout the night. The first few cycles tend to be mostly non-REM sleep, with progressively more REM sleep as the night goes on.
How Is Cannabis Connected to the Various Sleep Cycles?
Cannabis is thought to increase the amount of time you spend in non-REM sleep, specifically stages 2 and 3. This can be beneficial if you’re having trouble staying asleep or if you want to experience deep, restful sleep.
Cannabis is also thought to increase the duration of REM sleep. This may be beneficial for people who suffer from conditions like PTSD or anxiety, as REM sleep is when most dreams occur. Dreams can help process trauma and anxiety, so this increased duration may help reduce symptoms.
What Happens When THC Intake is Stopped?
The THC in cannabis is what causes most people to feel sleepy. However, when THC intake is stopped, sleep patterns usually return to normal. There may be some residual effects from chronic use, but these typically dissipate within a few days to weeks.
Risks and Side Effects of Using Cannabis for Sleep
While cannabis is generally considered safe, there are some risks to be aware of. Cannabis can interact with other medications, so it’s important to talk to your doctor first if you’re considering using it for sleep.
Cannabis can also cause some side effects, including:
- Fatigue: Cannabis can make you feel tired or sleepy. If you use it during the day, this may make it difficult to stay awake and concentrate.
- Dry mouth: Cannabis can decrease saliva production, leading to dry mouth.
- Red eyes: Cannabis can cause blood vessels in the eyes to dilate, resulting in red eyes.
- Increased appetite: Cannabis may increase your appetite.
- paranoia: In high doses, cannabis can cause paranoia and anxiety.
If you experience any of these side effects, it’s important to stop using cannabis and talk to your doctor. Overall, cannabis is considered safe to use for sleep.