Does marijuana help you sleep? New study offers bad news — but it’s complicated

·4 min read

Potheads in the media are often portrayed as the sweatpants-wearing, couch-slumping types, barely awake to tend to any meaningful conversation or task.

But some marijuana users smoke, eat or vape marijuana to actually help them sleep.

Some research backs up the less traditional sleeping aid, but a new study suggests marijuana use is associated with extreme sleeping patterns; People who use the drug either sleep too much or too little, with heavier users experiencing a more intense cycle.

Surveys conducted between 2005 and 2018 of more than 21,700 people show those who used marijuana recently — within the 30 days prior — were 34% more likely to sleep for less than 6 hours (short) and 56% more likely to sleep for more than nine hours (long) compared to non-users. Six to nine hours of sleep was considered “optimal” for the study.

The results held true after accounting for potentially conflicting factors, such as work schedules, alcohol use, weight, race, prescriptions and history of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, according to the study published Monday, Dec. 6 in the journal Regional Anesthesia & Pain Medicine.

But heavier marijuana users — those who used the drug for at least 20 out of the 30 days prior — were 64% more likely to experience short sleep and 76% more likely to experience long sleep.

The study’s findings do not mean marijuana is directly responsible for causing sleeping problems in some users, but the surveys, which represent about 146.5 million adults in the U.S., suggest an association between the drug and whacked-out sleeping patterns.

Still, the new paper contradicts other related studies that have found marijuana to be a helpful sleeping aid, though research is ongoing. The drug’s long-term effects when used to improve sleep are also unknown, experts say.

Marijuana is a Schedule I substance, “defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” under the Controlled Substances Act, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). So, there’s limited research on its safety and efficacy as a sleeping aid.

Some products based on the drug’s psychoactive ingredient THC and non-high-inducing component cannabidiol, or CBD, have been approved for nausea, epilepsy and other conditions, but not for sleep.

Marijuana is commonly used as a sleep aid

Research based on older data may also misrepresent marijuana’s effects on sleep today because the drug has become more potent over the years, study author Dr. Karim Ladha, staff anesthesiologist and clinician-scientist at the University of Toronto in Canada, told CNN.

“Studies tell us about what happens at a population level, but on an individual level that discussion is much more personal,” Ladha told the outlet. “The studies just give us the possibilities that [marijuana] could hurt your sleep, but it may help and so we just don’t know until you try it.”

About 70% of young adults “casually use” marijuana to help them sleep, according to the Sleep Foundation; About half of those who have been using the drug for more than 10 years also use it to improve their slumber.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults get seven or more hours of sleep each night. Anything less than that on a regular basis can increase risks for obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, poor mental health, Type 2 diabetes and early death.

“Even one night of short sleep can affect you the next day,” the agency says. “Not only are you more likely to feel sleepy, you’re more likely to be in a bad mood, be less productive at work, and be involved in a motor vehicle crash.”

Why does marijuana make you sleepy?

Past research has found daily marijuana users are more likely to report more sleep problems than occasional or non-users, similar to what the new study found. But any lingering effects, as well as the sensation felt, after marijuana use can depend on numerous factors, including the time and type of marijuana used, experts say.

The drug has a range of compounds that can act as a sedative, such as THC, while other components such as CBD can “promote alertness at lower doses and sleepiness at higher” ones, the Sleep Foundation says.

The frequency of marijuana use can also determine sleep quality.

Research suggests short-term use increases the amount of time spent in deep sleep, which helps people feel refreshed. “However, THC decreases the amount of time you spend in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when you spend more time dreaming, processing emotions, and cementing new memories,” the Sleep Foundation says.

Some people may also use marijuana as a sleeping aid to avoid other drugs, such as opioids, which carry risks of addiction and abuse.

“Patients are spending money and time and resources to obtain cannabis right now to help with sleep,” Ladha told CNN. “I think as the medical community, we need to do everything we can to make sure that we enable our patients to make the best possible decisions for their health.”

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