Marijuana and Sleep
It makes sense why you’d want to try cannabis if you’ve been having trouble sleeping. Missing a few hours of sleep, even if it’s uncommon, leaves you feeling agitated, foggy, and overall less than you want to feel. That’s why we are seeing more and more experimenting with THC / CBD products in an attempt to improve their sleep.
While there is research out there around the effects of cannabis on sleep, there is still much that we do not understand. For example, we know that THC, especially in high doses, aids in getting to sleep more quickly versus a control group.
We also know that cannabis is very good at blocking REM (dream sleep). This is problematic as It is the stage of sleep most associated with dreaming. During REM sleep the brain and body act very differently than they do during other stages of sleep. During this stage of sleep the skeletal muscles act as if they are paralyzed. In fact all voluntary muscles, except for eye muscles are atonic, or without movement. This probably had some evolutionary benefit as it protected us and others from injury, as we would otherwise act out our dreams.1
According to Dr. Matthew Walker, a Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, states that the brain is very clever, and builds up a clock count of how much dream sleep you should of had, but have not been getting. As a result, the brain develops such an appetite for dream sleep, that you’ll get a REM sleep rebound effect if you stop using for a period of time.
Another point to consider is the sex of the individual using cannabis. According to an article from Front Psyciatry from May of 2021, “ we found that cannabis users relative to controls had smaller cerebellum volume and poorer sleep quality, and these effects were driven by the female cannabis users (i.e., a group-by-sex interaction). Among cannabis users, there was an age of first use-by-sex interaction in sleep quality, such that females with earlier age of first cannabis use tended to have more self-reported sleep issues, whereas this trend was not present among male cannabis users. The amygdala volume was smaller in cannabis users than in non-users but the group by sex interaction was not significant.”2
What this article showed is female cannabis users had changes to the structures of their brain when compared to male users. And the longer the woman had been using cannabis, the changes were more pronounced.
So what does this all mean? Will cannabis help you to fall asleep faster? Yes. Will it also have an impact on the quality of your sleep? Yes. What we can see from the research is that cannabis hinders our ability to get into REM sleep, a critical stage of rest and recovery for the body. AND, simply missing this period of sleep doesn’t work, the body needs it and will make up the loss whenever possible. We also see changes to the physical structure of the brain with cannabis use, mainly in women. And like most aspects of health, the answer isn’t 100% clear. Using cannabis will help you get to sleep, which is SO important for those with long term sleep issues. The consequence is a definite change to the quality of sleep. Is it a fair trade? That’s something for you to wrestle with. There is plenty more to discuss and learn around cannabis and sleep, so bring up your questions and we can dig deeper.