A new study carried out last December in. has been published Regional anesthesia and pain medicine found that chronic cannabis users reported more sleep disorders, including difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. But cannabis has been touted as a sleep aid for years, and with the easier access to cannabis due to legalization in many US states, more and more cannabis is turning to sleep aid.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also devastated normal sleep plans – a new study published in the journal sleep reported that from 2018 to 2020, as the first wave of the pandemic, insomnia increased by 26.7%, causing intense psychological stress for millions.
Researchers at the University of Toronto, Canada, analyzed data gathered in a study of the cannabis use habits of 21,729 Americans who supposedly represent 146 million Americans. The data was collected over a 13-year period from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, developed by the CDC. Recognizing that others had not used the cannabis data in the survey, Calvin Diep, resident anesthesiologist at the University of Toronto and first author of the article, saw it as an opportunity to find something new. “Curiosity really sparked it all,” Diep said in an interview.
They found that heavy cannabis users (20 or more times in 30 days) struggled with both getting enough sleep and too much sleep. Moderate cannabis users (fewer than 20 times in 30 days) were more likely to sleep more than nine hours. In particular, the study found that recently cannabis users were more likely to see a doctor about sleep problems than non-cannabis users. The sleep disorders measured in the study included difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, as well as abnormal sleep times (these were characterized as less than six hours and more than nine hours of sleep). Overall, heavy users had the greatest impact on sleep disorders.
According to Diep, the study opened a conversation for future cannabis and sleep research:
“[Cannabis] is a drug at the end of the day; it’s a chemical agent. Just like with all other drugs, we have to research to find out exactly where this might or might not fit into our therapeutic area. ”- Diep, in an interview
Their study examined the relationship between cannabis and sleep at the population level, not at the individual level. The next steps for other scientists could be a randomized controlled trial or a clinical trial to better control fine details like cannabis strain, time of use, and questions asked about sleeping habits.
But what about the research showing cannabis can help people fall asleep? Some research has found that cannabis use can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, known as sleep latency. However, this effect can go away as its use becomes chronic. Diep and his colleagues found that the frequency of cannabis use and the length of sleep are related – that is, how much cannabis use can affect the quality of sleep.
How you consume cannabis is also important. A 2021 study published in the Journal Addictive behavior studied how cannabis use affects sleep when people consume edibles instead of smoking. Just like in the study by Diep and his colleagues, more frequent cannabis use was associated with poorer sleep quality. In the earlier study, this effect was stronger in those who consumed edibles. This may be because edibles take longer to work than other forms of consumption and their effects can last longer, potentially disrupting our sleep longer into the night.
The study’s scientists also asked participants to rate average CBD (cannabidiol) consumption, and found that those who reported higher average CBD intake tended to have better quality sleep. Research has shown that CBD has a calming effect and can improve some aspects of sleep. Interestingly, older participants in the study saw greater benefit from CBD than younger participants. The study’s authors believe this could be related to how our bodies change with age – metabolism slows down as we age, allowing more CBD to remain in the body.
In addition to CBD, melatonin has been shown to help the restless to fall asleep faster. Research also suggests that mindfulness can improve the quality of sleep. An article published in the Washington Post in 2021 points to many methods of getting to sleep, such as reading before bed, progressive muscle relaxation, and even cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. So CBD or, less commonly, cannabis use can help us sleep, but it’s not the only method.
It is important to note that both studies were based on survey material and a variety of factors can hinder a person’s reported cannabis use in a survey. “This is just small pieces of information that people and consumers can use to help them make decisions and have an open conversation with their healthcare provider,” said Diep, commenting on the results. Their study has provided researchers with insights to keep asking questions and uncovering more about how cannabis use is related to sleep. “Good research raises more questions,” says Diep.
“Using Recreational Cannabis to Treat Insomnia.” 2019
“Use of cannabis to relieve pain and promote sleep by customers in a pharmacy for adult consumption.” 2019
“Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Sleep: A Review of the Literature.” 2017
“New cannabis use and nocturnal sleep duration in adults …” 2021