Key Takeaways

  • Roughly 50 to 70 million adults nationwide exhibit symptoms of a sleep disorder
  • Marijuana can help restore the body’s natural sleep cycle—its analgesic properties can ease chronic pain, while its anti-anxiety properties can help soothe a racing mind
  • THC and CBD affect everyone differently, and a cannabis regimen to improve your sleep cycle may take some trial and error

THC For Sleep

As you may already know, there are two dominant chemical compounds within cannabis. One, CBD (or cannabidiol), has several health benefits but is non-psychoactive, meaning it won’t give you the “high” feeling associated with cannabis use. The other, THC (or tetrahydrocannabinol), is psychoactive and gives you the “high” feeling associated with cannabis. THC, along with over 85 other cannabinoids, is found in the trichomes of the cannabis plant.

The effects of THC are induced rapidly as the chemical binds to endocannabinoid receptors in the brain, central nervous system, and immune system. The naturally sedative properties of Indica strains will be the primary benefit for marijuana users looking for sleep aid. Still, the late-night use poses risks around daytime drowsiness and lack of dreams.

Choosing a Strain: Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid?

If you’ve spoken to your physician and they’ve recommended cannabis as a potential treatment for sleep disturbances, or if you’ve made the decision to try cannabis to help with sleep, then the next step is to choose a strain that’s right for you.

Different strains have different effects on the body and it’s important to choose a strain that suits your needs and health goals. Different strains fall into one of three categories:

  • Indica strains are generally relaxing and soothing, producing a mellow, drowsy effect.
  • Sativa strains have more euphoric, energizing effects and are best for daytime use.
  • Hybrids vary between being more Indica- or Sativa-dominant and are blends of the two strains, the specifics of which are often left up to the grower or dispensary.

While the dispensary staff can help choose a specific strain, there are a few overall guidelines to keep in mind. First, Indica or Indica-dominant hybrids are the most likely to help you relax and doze off with ease since they lack the cerebral “head high” of sativas that can be overwhelming when you’re falling asleep.

Second, we recommend sticking to a strain that contains about 20 percent THC or less. This is because super-strong strains can make dosing more difficult and are more likely to leave you feeling groggy the next morning. If you find you need something stronger, you can always increase your dose, but you can’t reduce it once you’ve ingested it. Start slower and work up if you find you need to.

The Big Question: How does cannabis affect your sleep cycle?

Well, it certainly puts you to bed faster! It’s an incredible agent for fighting insomnia. But what about your dreams? While there were relatively minor changes in the sleep activity of sleep stages one through three, researchers noticed that, in a dose-dependent manner, higher THC both increased stage four (deep sleep) whilst decreasing REM (dream sleep).

Now, why might you be okay with this trade-off? The primary benefit of cannabis’s dream suppression—managing PTSD by decreasing nightmares. People who struggle to move past an emotional or challenging event are often haunted by it in their dreams, and cannabis can help provide a restful night’s sleep.

Now you might be wondering, what if I don’t have PTSD? Is it bad to miss out on dreams? Do I need them for memory retention or future problem solving, as some researchers think?

Whether or not nightmares are the problem, people worldwide know that cannabis is a brilliant solution for speeding up sleep onset and extending sleep.

Here is the thing, though, your dreams are going to get intense when you take a night off from smoking. After a period of decreased REM sleep time, your body goes into a ‘rebound mode’ where you dream intensely to catch up on all the REM sleep your system feels it needs.

Despite theories about REM’s importance in processing information and emotions, a lack of REM sleep appears to have little impact on waking behavior. (Read the full study here.) Studies using electroencephalogram—EEG—recordings show that even with minimal REM sleep, subjects report no obvious adverse effects in their day-to-day.

However, this is not the case with NREM deep sleep cycles. While it appears that we can survive just fine without REM, the sequences of other sleep cycles are imperative to our health.

Have you ever ingested cannabis products before bed and woken up with a ‘high-over’? Improper dosage or choice of strain and THC content can leave you feeling lethargic. Edibles can affect our bodies for much longer since they’re processed by the digestive tract and liver, anywhere from eight to 12 hours. This can cause grogginess the next morning. It’s best for sleeping purposes to stick to vaping, smoking, or tinctures, all of which are absorbed into the bloodstream and not processed by the gut.

We recommend sticking to a strain that is about 20-percent THC or less. This is because super-strong strains can make dosing more difficult and are more likely to leave you feeling groggy the next morning.

Dosage and Usage of THC for Sleep

There are many different options available for cannabis ingestion before bed. The two key things to sort out are consumption method and dosage.

How to Choose Your Cannabis Ingestion Method for Sleep

Some people prefer to smoke flower in the form of a bowl or a joint. Others prefer to vaporize flower or cannabis concentrates (be careful when using these for sleep, they’re very potent!) through a pen or volcano vaporizer.

Others use cannabis tinctures, which can be dropped under the tongue and absorbed through the mouth’s mucous membranes. Ultimately, the delivery method is up to you; choose whatever you feel most comfortable with.

Secondly, there is the question of how to find the correct dosage. This may take a bit of trial and error, so perhaps it would be best not to start at the beginning of the workweek. Start slow, with just a few puffs when smoking raw flower or vaping, or start with a drop or two of a tincture.

Take note of how you feel after ingestion. Signs that you feel the effects of cannabis include euphoria, drowsiness, increased sensation, and a delayed sense of time. If you find that you need to re-dose during the night, go ahead—avoid dosing within four hours of your scheduled wake-up time.

How to Time Your Cannabis Dosing for Sleep

Timing is crucial when using cannabis for sleep. This is one reason we didn’t include edibles in our recommended ingestion methods, as the time they take to become effective is unreliable, from 30 minutes to two or three hours. You’ll need to be much more precise than that when dosing with cannabis for sleep.

As with any sleep aid, cannabis is most effective when combined with good sleep hygiene. Provide yourself with a peaceful and restful environment, choose a consistent bedtime, and try to take a break from screens at least an hour before bed.

While everyone processes cannabis differently, it is generally a good idea to dose about an hour before bedtime. The effects of cannabis will last three to four hours, helping you fall asleep. However, the immediate effects of cannabis, especially the sense of euphoria, can make you temporarily more excitable and therefore make it harder to sleep. Taking cannabis an hour before bed allows these effects to subside, making for a more restful sleep.

Study Results for THC on Sleep Behavior

According to a study conducted in 2008, consumption of high-THC cannabis can reduce REM sleep, meaning that your body spends more time in the deeper, more restful phases of sleep and less in REM, or the dream-inducing phase of sleep.  This can result in more peaceful sleep quality, especially for those who have trouble staying asleep or struggle with nightmares. However, it is also important to note that REM sleep is a necessary phase of sleep that helps improve cognitive functioning, so it may not be a good idea to use cannabis as a sleep aid for long periods of time.

As with any sleep aid, cannabis may not work for everyone and does not work the same across all patients. Additionally, some people have difficulty using high-THC strains because they find it increases their anxiety and causes feelings of paranoia. If this is true for you, you can experiment with different strains, especially those high in CBN, which is the strongest sedative of any known cannabinoids. We always suggest discussing your needs with your dispensary and asking for a recommendation. You may find that certain strains can help you sleep without triggering anxiety.

Additionally, the consumption of cannabis by those pregnant or breastfeeding is not recommended. If you’ve recently had a heart attack, consult a physician before using cannabis, as some research has shown an increased risk of myocardial infarction associated with cannabis use. To assess the risk of other illnesses such as COPD related to the smoking of cannabis, more research is needed and the medical uses and benefits of cannabis.

As more cannabis research is forthcoming, cannabis (which is legal in some states but remains illegal at the federal level and in much of the country) has been shown to have numerous health benefits. It acts in similar ways to many existing pharmaceutical drugs, with far fewer and less severe side effects.

Before you design a THC routine for managing sleep disorders, it’s important to understand that THC has not yet been proven effective for these conditions; please always speak to your doctor before changing your current management regimen.

A Note About Cannabis & Drug Testing

If drug testing is a part of your employment conditions, you might be concerned about testing positive for THC. This isn’t an unfounded concern—however, there isn’t exactly a cut-and-dry way to answer it.

If you are concerned about passing a drug test, you should consider this potential risk when deciding whether cannabis is right for you. However, if your decision is already made, there are options out there, including purchasing a detox kit here. 

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