Counting Sheep & Still Losing Sleep? What to Know About Cannabis & Insomnia

We are a nation of sleep-deprived citizens. According to the National Sleep Foundation, insomnia affects roughly 30 percent of the general population. Needless to say, that number is surely elevated in light of heightened fears surrounding the global crisis that is upending our day-to-day lives. At Torrey Holistics, a licensed cannabis store in Sorrento Valley, never has the issue of insomnia been more prescient. Both new and veteran consumers alike reach out daily to see if cannabis can help them get a better night’s sleep. Fortunately, an emerging body of research provides substantial evidence to show that indeed it can.

What is Insomnia?

Sleeplessness may be caused by a variety of isolated or compounded factors, most commonly stress and anxiety, irregular sleeping patterns, or specific sleep disorders. Insomnia manifests in different ways in different people; for example, some experience an inability to fall asleep, whereas some find it harder to stay asleep through the night. Whether the issue is the former, the latter, or a combination of the two, insomnia can have serious consequences for one’s health and wellbeing. Aside from leaving those afflicted drowsy in the daytime, lack of sleep can exacerbate mental health disorders and increase one’s risk of getting in a car accident, among other formidable problems.

Cannabis & Insomnia

Clinical research and anecdotal evidence suggest that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a crucial role in regulating sleep cycles. Discovered in 1992, the ECS is a network of receptors found in the cells of almost every major organ in every vertebrate, working ceaselessly to maintain balance in everything from immune function to digestion, to reproduction and more. In addition, proper ECS functioning is critical to the maintenance of a healthy circadian rhythm.

Research is starting to elucidate the ways that an improperly-functioning ECS affects our health. Indeed, sleep and mood disorders are two examples of conditions correlated with dysregulation of the ECS. Furthermore, it is possible to boost ECS functioning by supplementing with cannabis.

Research shows CBD may regulate circadian rhythms. Cannabis contains hundreds of molecules known as cannabinoids, the most abundant being THC. THC is the “high”-producing compound and has well-documented sedative properties. THC has also been shown to help temporarily relieve obstructive sleep apnea. Conversely, CBD — another compound rising in popularity due to its ability to reduce anxiety and inflammation — is mildly stimulating at small-to-medium-sized doses but appears to regulate circadian rhythms in the long-term, thus working to bring the body back into a healthier sleep schedule.

Illustrated clock with half nighttime, half daytime

Research shows CBD may regulate circadian rhythms.

Cannabis products higher in THC are best suited for individuals who struggle to fall asleep, as one does not need to take them consistently for their effects to work. In addition, taking THC before bedtime may suppress nightmares, a trait that is particularly useful for those struggling with PTSD-induced insomnia.

While THC is useful for its short-term sedative effects, over time, users may develop a tolerance. If you find that THC is no longer helping you fall asleep, taking a short break should help to rebuild your tolerance, thus restoring the compound’s sleep-inducing properties.

In contrast to those who struggle to fall asleep, Individuals who struggle to stay asleep may benefit more from regularly taking a product high in CBD. Over time, CBD works to gradually bring the body back to a healthier sleep cycle, reducing general stress as well for added benefit. If you go the latter route, just be sure to consume your CBD well before your planned bedtime in order to avoid being kept awake by its stimulating properties.

In addition to sleep-promoting cannabinoids, the cannabis plant produces aromatic molecules known as terpenes that can enhance the sedative qualities of a particular strain. Indica strains — colloquially known for putting users “in-da-couch” — are oftentimes high in terpenes such as myrcene (found in hops and mangoes), linalool (found in lavender), and caryophyllene (found in black pepper and cloves). Together, cannabinoids and terpenes come together to create an effect that is greater than the sum of its individual parts alone. As a result, consuming a product made with full-spectrum or strain-specific cannabis may be more effective for promoting sleep than consuming just THC or CBD alone.

Cannabis Products for Sleep

Camino gummies in

Clockwise from upper left: Camino “Sleep” gummies; Torrey Herb Co. “Night” preroll; dreamt disposable vaporizer; and Yummi Karma “Drift Away” tincture.

At Torrey Holistics, there are a variety of products formulated specifically for sleep. These products range from smokeable flower to tinctures, edibles, vaporizers, beverages, and more. Oftentimes, brands will name their products after the effects they are intended to produce — names such as “Sleep,” “Calm,” “Night,” and “Dream” are not uncommon.

Timing, too, is a critical consideration when choosing a cannabis product. Depending on the method of consumption, effects may be felt in as little as five minutes or as long as two hours. In addition, the duration of these effects range from two hours to eight or more. Typically, a product with a quicker onset time (such as a vaporizer) produces effects for a shorter duration of time than a product with a longer onset time (such as an edible). Depending on the nature of your insomnia, it is important to take timing into account when choosing a product. When in doubt, Torrey Holistics’s knowledgeable cannabis consultants are available to help you find a product best suited to your needs.

These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Nothing said, done, typed, printed or reproduced by Torrey Holistics is intended to diagnose, prescribe, treat or take the place of a licensed physician.

About the Author

Shelby Huffaker headshot

Shelby Huffaker is Torrey Holistics’ Lead Cannabis Educator. As a passionate advocate for cannabis research, social equity, and sustainability within the industry, she is committed to sharing her findings with the general public. Huffaker’s notable achievements include speaking at the San Diego Union Tribune’s Successful Aging Expo and co-organizing the GoodLife Seminar Series, the first cannabis education event held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

REFERENCES

Babson, Kimberly A et al. “Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Sleep: a Review of the Literature.” Current psychiatry reports vol. 19,4 (2017): 23. doi:10.1007/s11920-017-0775-9

Devane, W A et al. “Isolation and structure of a brain constituent that binds to the cannabinoid receptor.” Science (New York, N.Y.) vol. 258,5090 (1992): 1946-9. doi:10.1126/science.1470919

Russo, Ethan B. “Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes.” Cannabis and cannabinoid research vol. 1,1 154-165. 1 Jul. 2016, doi:10.1089/can.2016.0009

Russo, Ethan B. “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects.” British journal of pharmacology vol. 163,7 (2011): 1344-64. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x

Shannon, Scott et al. “Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series.” The Permanente journal vol. 23 (2019): 18-041. doi:10.7812/TPP/18-041

Suni, Eric. “What Causes Insomnia?” SleepFoundation.org, National Sleep Foundation, 6 August 2020, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/what-causes-insomnia.

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