Statistics Canada estimates that 1 in 3 Canadians are not getting enough sleep. This article highlights prevalent sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome as well as possible causes and how medical cannabis might help.
Sleep disorders are a global problem. Studies indicate that as much as 50 percent of the world’s population suffers from some sleep disorders, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, or narcolepsy. Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to heart disease, weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and even premature death. Medical cannabis is emerging as an effective treatment for certain sleep disorders.
Medical Cannabis as an Alternative to Sleeping Pills
Traditionally, the problem of insomnia has been treated with pharmaceutical drugs, using both over-the-counter and prescription medication. But sometimes, these drugs turn out to be less than perfect solutions. Sleeping pills can potentially produce unwanted side effects, such as daytime drowsiness, cognitive slowdown, next-day impairment, weakness, and in some extreme cases, abnormal parasomnias such as sleep-walking. Tolerance can also build up over time that makes these drugs less effective.
Medical cannabis can be used as a safer alternative to pharmaceutical sleep medication. After all, cannabis has been used for thousands of years by ancient cultures to treat ailments such as chronic pain, inflammation, and insomnia. This article will highlight the vital importance of sleep, common sleep disorders, and what medical cannabis can offer for relief.
Why Sleep is Overlooked in Our Society
The importance of sleep – of really getting an uninterrupted good night’s rest – is essential to maintaining good health, but it’s often ignored in our society. When we talk about health, sleep is usually the last rung on the ladder of priorities. Instead, the emphasis is placed on diet, exercise, staying out of the sun, drinking in moderation, and remembering to take vitamins. And if one can get some quality sleep along the way, then all the better.
So how did sleep become so marginalized?
In recent years, the technological boom that brought us innovations like mobile phones, 4K TVs, and tablets was also responsible for exposing us to blue light. As we now know, blue light suppresses our melatonin production – the natural hormone produced in our brain that regulates sleep-wake cycles. For a society that is increasingly exposed to blue light via digital screens, this doesn’t bode well. But blue light exposure is just one reason among many for disrupting natural sleep.
As a society, we work longer hours than before. Constant caffeine consumption gets us through the day. Our lives are full of social commitments, parenting commitments, and increasing work demands. All of these factors result in jam-packed routines and overstimulation that cause fundamental imbalances in our sleep-wake cycles. When we sleep, it gives our body precious time to heal and restore itself to full capacity before taking on the trials of a new day.
Top Benefits of Sleep
1. Improves productivity and cognition
2. Minimizes heart disease and stroke
3. Helps with immune function
4. Restores energy and hormone production
5. Heals damaged cells, tissue growth and aids in general daily recovery
6. Maintaining good cardiovascular health
7. Reduces inflammation
8. Promotes emotional stability and manages stress and anxiety
Most Common Sleep Disorders
A sleep disorder is defined as any abnormal condition that negatively impacts sleep. Sleep is broken up into two main categories: REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). NREM sleep is a deep stage of sleep when most restorative body processes occur. REM sleep is when dreaming happens. REM sleep also lets the mind organize and process thoughts and emotions as well as commit new knowledge to long-term memory.
Insomnia is the most prevalent sleep disorder where people experience difficulty falling asleep. As per Statistics Canada, 13% of Canadians, aged 15 and above reported suffering from insomnia.
Insomnia can be short-term or long-term. Short-term insomnia isn’t considered to be dangerous, as it’s usually caused by emotional stress or life changes, which will eventually pass with time. Insomnia is deemed to be severe when it becomes chronic. Treatment usually consists of prescribing sedatives or anti-anxiety drugs.
2. Sleep Apnea
This potentially severe sleep disorder happens when the affected person stops breathing intermittently during sleep. Common symptoms of sleep apnea are:
1.) Loud snoring
2.) Periods where the affected person stops breathing during their sleep
3.) Headaches upon waking up
5.) Hypersomnia (the feeling of extreme daytime sleepiness)
6.) Waking up with a dry or sore throat
Several factors can increase the risk of sleep apnea. These factors include being overweight, being male, being older, being a smoker, and experiencing nasal congestion. As a result of the sleep disturbance caused by sleep apnea, affected persons feel very tired during the day, and may experience irritability and depression. Standard treatment for sleep apnea is the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) sleep mask that helps facilitate breathing.
3. Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
This sleeping disorder is marked by uncomfortable sensations that cause a strong compulsion to move one’s legs. The feeling is described as a tingling or unpleasant aching. Contributing factors to RLS include arthritis, Parkinson’s, kidney failure, low iron, and diabetes. Typically, women are more affected than men by Restless leg syndrome. Treatments for RLS involve lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, reducing alcohol usage, improving sleep-wake routines, and sleep medications.
This sleep disorder is characterized by abnormal sleep-wake cycles, which in turn causes the affected person to experience extreme bouts of sleepiness throughout the day. These episodes of sudden drowsiness can occur at any given moment. Despite getting the same amount of rest as regular people, people with narcolepsy do not get the same quality of sleep. Narcolepsy affects both men and women equally.
The precise cause of narcolepsy is not known, but extreme daytime tiredness can also be triggered by sleep apnea, major depressive disorder, and anemia. Treatment involves adding in short naps and medication.
5. Post-Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a psychological disorder where the affected person suffers from long-lasting symptoms after being subjected to trauma. Examples of traumatic events include a severe accident, war, natural disasters, and forms of assault and violence. As a result, this person can experience unwanted and painful flashbacks, disturbing thoughts, and negative feelings related to the originating traumatic event.
People living with PTSD can also experience intense, recurring nightmares that disturb sleep. PTSD can also cause the person to be in a state of hyperarousal. Hyperarousal is a heightened state of anxiety that stems from extreme trauma. Symptoms can include feeling “jumpy,” being easily startled, inability to relax, difficulty focusing, emotional outbursts, panic, and insomnia.
How CBD May Help with Insomnia
There are two main active components in the cannabis plant: THC and CBD. THC generates the mind-altering effects associated with users feeling high. CBD is non-psychoactive and has been used by patients for decades to manage a variety of medical conditions. Regarding sleep disorders, it’s believed that CBD can promote better rest through direct or indirect means. CBD has been observed in multiple laboratory settings to reduce anxiety, as well as pain. Anxiety and pain are two common sleep-disrupting agents, and alleviating one or the other can indirectly encourage better sleep quality.
Let’s take a look at some of the most current scientific studies that potentially demonstrate how CBD can aid in managing some sleep disorders such as insomnia.
Case Study #1: Tracking Insomnia Patients With a Mobile App
A 2018 survey-based study led by Jacob M. Vigil and his team of researchers used a mobile application to survey 409 people who had insomnia. In this study, researchers sought to examine the relationship between ingesting cannabinoids THC and CBD and their effect on insomnia. Participants chose their method of ingestion from pipes, vaporizers, and joints. For data collection purposes, researchers had participants use a provided mobile application to record their perceived insomnia levels before and after cannabis consumption.
Here is a summary of the research findings:
- CBD was seen as more successful than THC in relieving insomnia symptoms
- Flower from Indica and hybrid strains yielded more positive effects than Sativa strains
- Participants who used pipes and vaporizers reported more positive results over joints
- Medical cannabis, in general, was seen as providing positive benefits to insomnia symptoms
Case Study #2: Brazilian Study on CBD and Sleep-Wake Cycles
As stated before, when we sleep, we alternate between NREM and REM cycles. Certain pharmaceutical sleeping medications can disrupt these natural cycles and often lead us to feel unrested and tired the next day. A team of Brazilian researchers conducted tests intending to find out if CBD affects our natural sleep stages.
In this double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study, 27 participants were divided into two groups. One group was given a dose of CBD, and the other group was given a placebo. For two nights, participants were rigorously monitored in a sleep lab using a variety of diagnostic instruments. Here’s what researchers discovered:
- There was no significant difference in sleep-wake cycles between CBD and placebo participants
- CBD demonstrated no acute changes to sleep-wake periods
- No residual effects on cognitive/attention levels.
Case Study #3: Cannabidiol (CBD) Research on Insomnia and Anxiety
A 2019 study led by Dr. Scott Shannon was conducted on 72 adults, 47 of which reported anxiety and the remaining 25 suffering from poor sleep. All patients were administered CBD via gel capsules with dosages taking place in the morning for anxiety-ridden participants and nightly doses for insomnia patients. The data collection method relied on monthly clinical visits where patients would score their anxiety and insomnia levels before and after taking CBD. Here are the main takeaways from this study:
- In the first month, both anxiety and insomnia symptoms improved after CBD use
- Over time, patient scores saw a more significant reduction in anxiety ratings than insomnia ratings
How THC May Help With Sleep Disorders
THC is the mind-altering ingredient in cannabis, but it also produces sedative effects that help people sleep. Not only does medical cannabis help with insomnia, but it also provides analgesic aid for patients whose sleep difficulties originate from ailments like cancer, neuropathic pain, and chronic pain. Let’s examine how THC can potentially improve certain sleep disorders.
THC Can Help Alleviate PTSD Symptoms
As referenced earlier, sleep is chiefly divided into two main stages: NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye moment). Studies have shown that THC suppresses REM sleep. Since most dreaming occurs during the REM sleep stage, THC consumption may be useful in reducing recurring disturbing nightmares that are symptomatic of people living with PTSD.
It is important to note that quitting the use of THC will result in a rebound effect where patients experience a surge of intense dreaming. So perhaps, THC is effective as a short-term solution for PTSD-related sleeping issues.
Medical Cannabis Helps Insomnia Patients Fall Asleep Faster
In one of the most extensive clinical studies examining cannabis and sleep, researchers, Rolando Tringale MD and Claudia Jensen MD, sought to study the effects of cannabis on sleep onset and sleep quality. This study involved 147 patients. Out of those 147, 116 reported difficulties falling asleep, and the rest reported no problem falling asleep. Data collection methods consisted of patients filling out intake forms over eleven months. Here’s what researchers discovered:
- Both groups said that it took them less time to fall asleep when taking cannabis
- Of those who had trouble falling asleep, 79% reported an increase in quality of sleep
- Overall, cannabis usage reduced sleep onset time by a median time of 30 minutes
- Balanced strains with THC and CBD may produce a synergistic sleep-inducing effect
Precautions with THC and Sleep
The sleep-inducing properties of THC are very potent, so patients must be careful not to dose excessively. Too high of a dose can result in a next-day “hangover” effect that is akin to feeling groggy. Also, patients seeking sleep relief with medical cannabis should consider quick methods of ingestion. Cannabis oils, sprays, and gel capsules are recommended to be taken at least one to two hours before bedtime. Edibles are not recommended because the unpredictable effect onset can take up to several hours, and the total duration can be up to 12 hours or longer.
Choosing the Right Medical Cannabis Strain for You
Different medical cannabis products work for different patients. What works for one patient may not work with another. That’s why it’s essential that patients work closely with their healthcare practitioner to determine what cannabis strain works best for them. Cannalogue was built by doctors, for patients. Our top priority is ensuring patient health, safety and wellness through rigorous monitoring, assessment, and prescription tracking.