Can Cannabis Cure Insomnia & Sleep Deprivation?

There’s not much better than a great night’s sleep. There’ nothing much worse than tossing and turning, counting sheep, and laying awake until the sun comes up.

The importance of sleep can’t be understated. It helps your body process memories from the day, protects your immune system, and restores the body. Lack of sleep can literally drive you crazy.

Fortunately, cannabis can be a powerful sleep aid. It’s no surprise that one of the top self-reported reasons for using cannabis is because it can help you sleep.

Why can cannabis help you sleep?

The endocannabinoid system — the body’s own cannabinoid system — is one of the body’s most important physiological systems. It’s involved in virtually every aspect of one’s physical and emotional health. So it should be no surprise, that the endocannabinoid mediates most the body’s rhythmic processes and can exert powerful influence over sleep.

How can cannabis help?

Cannabis can be helpful in a number of ways, from making it easier to fall asleep to helping you stay asleep once you've fallen asleep:

Cannabis may make falling asleep easier

Most sleep medications only have a nominal effect on the time it takes you to fall asleep. An National Institutes of Health study found that popular sleep medications accelerate sleep by a mere 12.8 minutes. Studies, on the other hand, have shown that a moderate amount of THC can help the insomnia-prone fall asleep up to an hour faster.

Cannabis may help you sleep more soundly during the night

Studies have demonstrated that cannabis can also help you sleep better at night, staying asleep longer without interruption. However, consume too much cannabis and you might feel drowsy the next day — a sort of cannabis “hangover.”

Cannabis may help you breathe better

Remarkably, 9% of women and 17% of men have what’s termed “sleep apnea” — problems breathing when they sleep. A 2013 study by researchers at the University of Illinois published a study in the Frontiers in Psychology journal that provides evidence THC may open breathing pathways, thus making breathing easier.

CBD may help you sleep better (or keep you awake)

Anecdotally, through patients and clinicians, we hear CBD or strains rich in CBD work great for sleep. However, studies have demonstrated contradictory findings. Some studies have shown CBD can be a “wake-inducing” agent, meaning it would keep you alert and awake. Other studies suggest patients experience more restful sleep when administering CBD an hour or two before bed.

The reason for the disparity may likely be dose-dependent. Most drugs exert biphasic (or multiphasic) effects, meaning low and high doses affect people differently. CBD may be a wake inducing agent at lower doses and sleep inducing at slightly higher doses. For patients, finding the right dose can take a bit of trial and error.

It’s also possible that environment influences the effects of CBD. One animal study tested this hypothesis by administering CBD to rats with the lights on and the lights off. Interestingly, when the lights were on, CBD promoted wakefulness with the lights on and sleep with the lights off. The findings led researchers to conclude CBD may be helpful to treat patients suffering from somnolence (excessive daytime sleepiness).

Indica-dominant strains are generally better for sleep than sativa-dominant strains

Sativa-dominant strains are more likely to produce a stimulating head high, while indica-dominant strains are known for producing more sedative effects. Why? Most people think it has to do with THC. People incorrectly believe indica-dominant strains have more THC, so they are more sedative. This is actually incorrect. There are low THC indica-dominant strains, and high THC sativa-dominant strains (check out Durban Poison).

The reason indica-dominant strains produce a greater sedative effect is that they contain higher levels of a terpene called “myrcene.” Myrcene influences the permeability of cell membranes, and in fact, helps THC cross the blood-brain barrier more easily. Sativa-dominant strains have less than .5% myrcene, while indica-dominant strains often have between 1 and 3%.

Some popular indica-dominant strains for sleep are Granddaddy Purple, Bubba Kush, Northern Lights, Blue Cheese, Afghan Kush.

CBN may prove to be the ultimate insomnia-fighting cannabinoid

Everyone knows THC. More and more people are becoming familiar with CBD. But, CBN, another cannabinoid is generating interest for its potential as a sleep-inducing agent. Some are calling CBN, “the cannabinoid that helps you sleep.” While research is still lacking, many people report positive outcomes with CBN-rich strains. However, many strains are not particularly rich in CBN, as THC produces CBN when it degrades (after being exposed to light and oxygen — a process called oxidation. Over time, CBN levels in stored cannabis flower will increase. And, the poorer the storage method, the better — at least if you’re looking to increase CBN content.

Clearly, cannabis can be an effective sleep aid. However, cannabis (and all sleep medications) should be only be used as a temporary fix. It's important to also integrate lifestyle changes including more exercise (which helps boost vital cannabinoids in the body), better diet, relaxation techniques, meditation, and other effective methods that don’t pose any risks long-term. Likewise, everyone's body reacts differently to various cannabis strains. So keep in mind, it may take a bit of trial and error to find the strain that works the best.


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What Are the 5 Best Cannabinoids (And, Why)?

Cannabis has nearly 500 natural components including flavonoids, terpenes, and cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are unique to cannabis (and the endocannabinoid system). Cannabinoids are of particular interest to scientists because many can work independently or synergistically (called the “entourage effect”) to produce therapeutic effects. However, most cannabinoids are not well understood.

The most studied cannabinoids are THC and CBD, which are also the most prominent cannabinoids in the plant. Just one cannabinoid — THC — produces both therapeutic and psychotropic effects (meaning it can “heal” you and get you “high”).

Although research will continue to shed light on the therapeutic value of cannabinoids, from a clinical perspective, the following five are some of the most interesting:

THC (∆9-Tetrahydrocannabinol): THC, of course, is known for producing the high associated with cannabis, but is also therapeutically versatile. Clinical studies confirm THC plays a powerful role in help managing pain (particularly neuropathic pain) as well as symptoms commonly accompanying cancer and HIV/AIDS. Accumulating evidence suggests in low doses, THC is a neuroprotectant and has demonstrated promise as a potential treatment for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. Studies also suggest that THC plays a key role in promoting extinction of traumatic memories making it particularly useful in the treatment of PTSD.

Cannabidiol (CBD): In the eyes of many, the second most prominent cannabinoid in cannabis — CBD — has emerged as a “wonder compound.” Not only does CBD provide a broad spectrum of therapeutic versatility, unlike THC, it doesn’t produce significant psychotropic effects (aka “a high”).

Accumulating research suggests CBD may be a powerful anti-anxiety agent and potentially a fast-acting mood-boosting antidepressant. Moreover, it appears to interact synergistically with THC by amplifying therapeutic effects, while counteracting potential adverse effects. Studies also suggest CBD is an anti-inflammatory and anti-psychotic drug.

But, wait — there’s more! Not to sound like a pitchman for an ginsu knives infomercial, but CBD is proving to be an amazing compound! In fact, it’s in the drug development process to approved as a treatment for epilepsy and Dravet syndrome (under the brand Epidiolex), and a mounting body of studies suggest it’s effective at treating a wide spectrum of anxiety-related disorders, chronic pain, psychosis, and even diabetes.

Perplexingly, many breeders have crossed plants to increase THC levels at the expense of CBD. This is unfortunate, because the two act like a Yin and Yang. Fortunately, consumers have are getting more savvy and starting realize CBD is a remarkable cannabinoid that they want in their cannabis. And, now we’re seeing high-CBD strains like AC/DC, Harlequin and Cannatonic increase in popularity.

Cannabichromene (CBC): Everyone has heard of THC, while more and more people are discovering CBD. However, CBC, is lesser known, with some people suggesting it may be the next “big thing.” Like CBD, it is non-psychoactive, and evidence suggests it produces some powerful therapeutic effects including neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and anti-depressant features. Research suggests that while effective on its own, it works it's real magic in concert with other cannabinoids like THC, CBD and CBG.

Cannabinol (CBN): CBN, recognized for its sedative properties, is emerging as the cannabinoid that to treat insomnia and sleep issues. With early research suggesting it may promote bone growth, it may also prove effective as a treatment for osteoporosis or to aid recovery from broken bones.

However, you won’t find too many strains that are high in CBN at your dispensary, because CBN increases as the flower is exposed to light. So if you’ve got some flower hanging around that hasn’t been stored very well, it may very well have high CBN content.

Cannabigerol (CBG): CBG is another minor cannabinoid that is generating a lot of interest, although research is still in its infancy. CBG seems to share some similarities with CBD in that it may temper some of the potentially adverse effects of THC (like paranoia) and it seems to work synergistically other cannabinoids. Also, as a GABA inhibitor, it could reduce stress and anxiety. Interestingly, industrial hemp strains are richer in CBG than medicinal strains. However, breeders are starting to create strains with higher CBG content.

Research on some of the other cannabinoids like THCa, THCv, CBDa, and CBDv, are demonstrating promise as potential therapeutic agents. But, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Cannabis is a complex plant with over 100 identified cannabinoids, most of which we’ve not studied rigorously. As research in the cannabis field continues to blossom, it will be exciting to learn how all these other cannabinoids work and how they could be beneficial.


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