Everyone knows that weed is ideal for putting people to sleep. Indica varieties in particular are highly effective at quieting the mind and sending people off to a deep slumber. But aside from simply easing insomnia and a number of other conditions, weed actually has a number of other effects on sleep. Recent research on sleep and marijuana explains some of the effects as well as why marijuana affects sleep the way that it does.
Marijuana and Sleep
Most of the benefits of marijuana stem from THC and its effect on the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is a system of receptors in the human brain which are stimulated when cannabinoids slot into the receptors. THC acts like a natural cannabinoid in the human body known as anandamide. And because the endocannabinoid system works on sleep as well as a number of other physiological processes, it is going to affect your sleeping patterns in a number of different ways.
The first and most obvious benefit of marijuana is that it can help people to get to sleep. The earliest cannabis research in the seventies concluded that marijuana is useful for those suffering from insomnia and reduces the time it takes for both insomniacs as well as healthy people to fall asleep. Too high of a dose can actually counter act this effect however, and Indica stains have been proven to be far more effective that Sativa dominant strains in terms of helping people to fall asleep. A 2013 study reaffirmed the conclusion that THC can help people to fall asleep. The study involved healthy subjects, and the study was conducted over a period of 7 days. Other studies have concluded that THC helps people to sleep for a longer period of time as opposed to the control groups with no THC. Some studies have demonstrated that increasing the amount of THC will increase the length of time, however an increase in THC can prevent sleep when doses are too high.
An interesting effect of marijuana on sleep is that it makes sleep quality better. It increases the amount of slow-wave sleep, sometimes referred to as deep sleep, which is generally held to be the most “productive” type of sleep possible, where you can get your deepest rest. Deep sleep is held to play a major role in restoration. Most sleep experts believe the most damaging effects of sleep deprivation stem from a lack of deep wave sleep. What is also interesting is that the majority of people spend very little time in this sleep phase, often less than 30 minutes.
Another effect of THC on sleep is that it reduces the amount of time people spend in REM sleep. Those who ingest marijuana before going to sleep report a lack of dreams. Dreams are prevalent in REM sleep. It is unknown whether this is a good or a bad thing, as scientists are not sure of the purpose of REM sleep at present, though some scientists suggest that REM sleep is what refreshes the brain. It could well be that the lack of REM sleep contributes to the increase in deep wave sleep, which we know to be more important. The corollary of this is that those who quit smoking report more dreams than usual and a lack of deep wave sleep. This effect goes away after a couple of weeks depending on the length of smoking time, and is likely an adjustment period before normalcy is restored.
The final significant affect marijuana has on sleeping patterns is on sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is characterized by disrupted breathing during sleep, and has been linked to a number of serious conditions, including diabetes and heart problems. Unfortunately, the vast majority of sleep apnea sufferers remain undiagnosed and untreated. But that’s where marijuana may help, as researchers are currently trialing THC as an alternative, with early results already showing promise
The Marijuana Research Issue
It seems that any article on the science of marijuana reaches the same inevitable conclusion. More research is needed. The data that is available on marijuana and sleep is inconclusive and in some cases contradictory. And there is more to blame than just marijuana. Research on sleep it shaky at best, and to put it bluntly scientists have next to no idea what goes on during dreamtime other than dreams are important to rest and restoration. All they can do really is monitor brainwaves and ask people how they feel the next morning. It is obvious that marijuana will lead to a deeper and more restorative sleep. But again, using it every single night might not be the best option and some scientists caution against this, saying that this could be a slippery slope with long term consequences as your brain becomes used to the additional THC for sleep.