Insomnia is a sleep disorder that is characterized by not letting someone fall asleep or stay asleep. It is often a symptom of an underlying problem such as depression, anxiety, stress, or pain. It can be incredibly frustrating for patients- especially those already dealing with a critical illness. According to the American Sleep Association, one out of every three people experiences difficulties in falling asleep with one in ten reporting a chronic problem with sleeplessness. With the stigma surrounding medical cannabis quickly becoming a thing of the past, we can now take a closer look at how cannabis help patients obtain that elusive good night’s sleep. Here are five things to know about medical cannabis, also known as medical marijuana, and how it can help get some shut eye.
- Understanding insomnia. Insomnia can be generally broken up into three categories depending on its severity. The most common type is known as transient insomnia, which lasts less than a week. Acute insomnia lasts longer than one week but not longer than one month and is often linked to higher levels of stress. Chronic insomnia is the most serious and long lasting of the three and can create serious health problems if not properly addressed. Insomnia affects women twice as often as it does men and approximately 50% of seniors are affected by insomnia. Chronic sleeplessness is associated with some quite serious health risks including cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and even diabetes. Unfortunately many conventional insomnia treatments can be dangerous or addictive and often don’t provide long term results.
- Understanding what causes insomnia. People who are dealing with insomnia, often referred to as insomniacs, are diagnosed into one of two categories: primary insomnia or secondary insomnia. Primary insomnia isn’t caused by any underlying condition. Secondary insomnia, in contrast, is associated with a secondary health concern or can be commonly caused by a prescription medication. Some examples of secondary insomnia causes are alcohol, chronic pain, depression, critical illness, and pharmaceutical medications. The most common cause of insomnia is stress.
- Conventional treatment options for insomnia. Before trying medical cannabis, many patients will turn to prescription medications such as Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata. While these medications are commonly prescribed by doctors, they may not actually be that effective. A study by the National Institutes of Health published in 2007 found that patients taking sleeping pills only added an average of eleven minutes to their sleep time. In addition to their dubious effectiveness, sleeping pills do come with some negative side effects. Xanax, for example, is extremely addictive and dangerous and has the potential for abuse. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found in 2013 that benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium were involved in 30 percent of legal drug overdoses, taking second place behind the most lethal: prescription opioids.
- Medical cannabis can help. Disillusioned or afraid of prescription medications, many patients find themselves turning to medical cannabis to help them sleep. This is because not only is cannabis safe and natural, it is effective and the science is backs that up. As early as 1973, medical researchers have shown that cannabis helps patients to fall asleep faster and sleep longer and better. One of the chemical compounds in cannabis known as THC was observed to increase deep sleep as well. This is important because deep sleep plays a vital role in the body’s natural restorative process. Additionally, researchers in 2013 found that cannabis also helped people to breathe better as they slept!
- The strain and dosage matters. The type of cannabis being ingested can play an important part in each patient’s experience. A strain high in indica, for example, is quite sedating and helpful in relieving pain. On the other hand, a strain high in sativa can be more stimulating and energizing with the effects being similar to green tea. If a strain high in sativa is ingested too late in the day or at too irresponsible a dose it can exacerbate symptoms of insomnia. Other chemical compounds, such as CBD, play a large part in the body’s regulation of its own natural circadian rhythm. THC and CBD, when taken together, can create a synergistic effect helping to promote a restorative night’s sleep and promote homeostasis. Also, patients should consider the method that the cannabis is being administered. Oils, tinctures, vapes, and edible forms of cannabis are recommended over smoking.
The correct medical marijuana protocol will not be the same for each patient. Just as each patient has their own unique needs, there are unique strains and methods of administering medical cannabis. It is therefore advised that each patient speak with a qualified medical cannabis practitioner to ensure a responsible dose, strain, and method of administration to help them acquire a good restorative night’s sleep.