Cannabis and Insomnia

Medical cannabis is a beneficial alternative for many patients in the treatment of insomnia.

Insomnia means having a hard time getting to sleep, staying asleep, or both.  Although most adults have experienced these types of symptoms at one time or another, an estimated 30%–50% of the general population has some degree of insomnia, and 10% have chronic insomnia (meaning more than three weeks).

Insomnia affects all age groups, and it is more common in women than men.  Stress very commonly triggers short-term insomnia.  If it’s not properly addressed, short-term insomnia can develop into chronic insomnia.

Chronic insomnia is often linked to an underlying medical condition – such as chronic pain of all varieties, chronic fatigue syndrome, acid reflux, and others.  Common psychological problems that may lead to insomnia include anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, and depression.

The main focus in treating insomnia is directed at finding and addressing the cause.  Treatment of insomnia generally includes non-medical as well as pharmacologic components.  Studies have shown that such a combined approach in treating insomnia usually works best.

Non-pharmacologic or non-medical therapies for insomnia include such things as improved sleep hygiene, relaxation therapy, stimulus control, and sleep restriction.  Improved sleep hygiene includes things such as avoiding alcohol, caffeine and exercise before bedtime, creating a comfortable bedroom environment, and following a regular sleep schedule.

There are a number of prescription drugs that are used to treat insomnia.  Some of these drugs may be associated with side effects, dependence, addiction, and even death due to overdose.  Many insomnia medications are not suitable for long-term use.

As an alternative to these prescription drugs, medical cannabis has also been found to be very effective in treating insomnia.  In some cases, tiredness from medical cannabis can be a side effect.  At night-time, however, it can be a very beneficial effect.  Many patients report that when compared to conventional sleep medications, medical cannabis works better, is not habit-forming, and leaves them feeling better the next day.  And there has never been a death from a medical cannabis overdose.

When using medical cannabis for insomnia, it is important to keep in mind which strain to use.  Most patients find that Indica strains are more relaxing with a pronounced sedative quality.  Sativa strains generally tend to be more energizing.  For some patients, either strain works well.

Scientific evidence supports these reports.  One study determined that the cannabinoid CBD helped with sleep better than THC.  Cannabinoids such as CBD and THC are just two of over one hundred such molecules found in the cannabis plant which provide medicinal actions.

Inhaled cannabis – preferably smoke-free vapor – generally provides an immediate effect and lasts for about 3–4 hours.  Edible or ingested cannabis, on the other hand, takes up to an hour to work, but lasts for up to 6–8 hours.  Therefore, an edible cannabis product, taken about an hour before bedtime, can work very well to help get a full night’s sleep.
Nutritional supplements that may aid with sleep include melatonin and L-tryptophan.  Herbal remedies include Valerian Root, Kava Kava, California Poppy, and Passion Flower.  Alternative therapies that may be beneficial include biofeedback, meditation, relaxation therapy, acupuncture and hypnosis.

Interestingly, many patients report fewer dreams when using medical cannabis.  This can be very beneficial when using medical cannabis for the treatment of conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

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