Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
Cannabis as Medicine
People have been using cannabis (also known as marijuana) for thousands of years for relieving anxiety, nausea, pain, and many other health conditions.
Although the rigorous scientific study of medical cannabis has been hampered by its status as an illegal drug throughout the 20th century, changing attitudes and laws are clearing the way for more understanding of its benefits in more recent times.
As cannabis has been used to treat sleep problems for centuries, science is catching up with recent studies pointing to one of its chemical components being especially helpful for people with insomnia.
A Match for Insomnia?
Insomnia can be a primary disorder or a symptom of a secondary disorder, like arthritis or depression.
In any case, it’s marked by sleeplessness – whether the problem is falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too early, or all of the above.
The ability of cannabis to help with sleep comes from the sedative effect of one of its main components known as cannabinoids: Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
One study on young adults found that THC had a significant sedative effect of inducing sleep.
Another study found that THC reduced the time in REM sleep. Although this may not sound positive, as REM or deep sleep is needed for optimal daytime functioning, the reduction is not dramatic.
Shorter REM sleep can also mean fewer unsettling dreams or nightmares for those with PTSD.
Using THC for Insomnia
Aside from the consideration of state laws regarding marijuana use, there are some things to ponder before trying the remedy for a good night’s sleep:
- Consider using a tincture, capsule, or another oral method of taking THC
- Smoking comes with inherent health risks that can be avoided
- Use the highest possible quality of THC from a licensed dispensary
- If THC is taken orally, such as in edibles, one should choose a high-bio availability THC. One disadvantage of ingesting edibles is that more THC gets broken down by the digestive system than when it’s inhaled.
Potential Side Effects of THC
The studies conducted on the efficacy of THC on insomnia have shown that it is a good choice for a short-term remedy.
Long-term use can result in withdrawal symptoms that could include changes in mood, such as anxiety or depression.
Extended use may also cause trouble with falling asleep. Some additional potential side effects could include:
- Dizziness, nausea, fatigue, dry mouth, next-day grogginess, and increased appetite
- Very high-THC content may also induce euphoria
Due to laws geared towards cannabis/marijuana changing worldwide, the path for more studies on the benefits of this ancient herbal remedy for insomnia is clear.
With sleep disorders being more prevalent over the past few years, this comes as welcome news to those who may have tried other holistic methods of getting a good night’s sleep unsuccessfully.
If you continue to experience insomnia despite trying home remedies such as THC, please consult with your doctor as there may be an underlying issue causing the sleep problem.
- Nicholson AN, Turner C, Stone BM, Robson PJ. Effect of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol on nocturnal sleep and early-morning behavior in young adults. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2004 Jun;24(3):305-13. doi: 10.1097/01.jcp.0000125688.05091.8f. PMID: 15118485.
- Schierenbeck T, Riemann D, Berger M, Hornyak M. Effect of illicit recreational drugs upon sleep: cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana. Sleep Med Rev. 2008 Oct;12(5):381-9. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2007.12.004. Epub 2008 Mar 3. PMID: 18313952.