One of the most common home-remedy uses for cannabis is as a natural sleep aid or cure for insomnia. There is no shortage of discussion on the matter—pitting the power of Cannabis sativa against that of C. indica, weighting the virtues of eating versus smoking, and calibrating the optimal balance between THC and CBD. Much of this speculation is impassioned, some if it is persuasive, and all of it is anecdotal.
On the other hand, the science is pretty meh. In lab mice, cannabis has been observed to increase slumber duration. In people, it tends to make falling asleep easier and to deepen sleep. But it doesn’t seem to lengthen overall sleep, and it even shortens the REM phase. A number of studies have shown that cannabis improves sleep in general, but one comparison study showed that it was less effective than amitriptyline, a not-particularly impressive aid.
Longterm use of cannabis may lessen the drug’s effects, and withdrawal can cause not only insomnia but also a rebound REM effect that temporarily produces more vivid and frequent dreaming.
If it’s anxiety that keeps you up at night, the intoxicating and relaxant properties of cannabis can help that, much as a slug of whiskey would. But, unlike cannabis, booze will shorten your slumber and make it shallower. So if you do want to drug yourself to sleep, pick up the bong, not the bottle.
With that said, if you’re currently taking sleep medication, consult your doctor before making any changes. That’ according to Dr. Jordan Tishler, a holistic care expert, who says contrary to what common marijuana myths might try to tell you, cannabis will not: significantly increase your risk of developing cancer, interfere with your hormonal levels, cause you to sleepwalk, induce seizures, or cause lingering impairment the day after use.
It can, however, reduce stress (which, in turn, can improve sleep), reduce the amount of times you wake up in the middle of the night, and shorten the amount of time it takes for you to fall back to sleep.
Unlike many sleep aids (such as Ambien and Lunesta), marijuana is safe for long-term use. And even when used long-term, marijuana is still significantly less likely to be habit-forming. Dr. Tishler says benzodiazepine drugs (better known as “benzos”), such as Valium and Ambien, create dependence in about 18 per cent of adult patients, whereas the dependency rate for marijuana users is only about 3 per cent.
Every patient responds differently, which is why some find that prescription sleep aids ultimately work better than marijuana. But if you’re not currently receiving any treatment for insomnia, or if your current treatment isn’t really working for you, you may want to give weed a try.