Weed as a Sleep Aid: Can Marijuana Really Help You Sleep?

using weed as sleep aid
By Andrew Ward Updated October 22nd, 2022

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

Sleep troubles are a pain, but a lack of shut-eye is far from the only downside. A number of adverse side effects and medical issues have been linked to poor sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). They include:

  • Injury
  • Chronic disease
  • Declined mental health
  • Poor quality of life 
  • Rising health care expenses
  • Declined productivity

The matter is pressing, with 70 million Americans reported suffering from chronic sleep problems. 

Some cannabis strains and products have shown potential for addressing some sleep conditions. With the ability to produce sedative, couch-locking-type effects, many consumers say they find benefits when consuming at night. 

But is weed really a viable sleep option? 

With many consumers and select studies vouching for THC or CBD sleep products, it's high time we better understand how cannabis may affect sleep, what happens when you sleep high, can you take CBD oil for sleep, and scores more about the plant and its potential impact on our rest. 

In this article, we'll delve into the subject: how cannabis impacts sleep duration and quality, what happens when you sleep high, whether you can take CBD oil for sleep, and why more research is needed before we can make any definitive clinical claims. We'll also explore the abundance of anecdotes singing the praises of pot's effect on our sleep and why, despite growing public support, some studies suggest that patients may want to hold off on using medical cannabis for their sleep issues. 

Can Cannabis Help You Sleep? 

With each person reacting differently to cannabis, and the vast array of effects that various cannabis strains produce, it's virtually impossible to make any conclusive medical claims about cannabis at this time. Even lab studies remain unclear on the potential help or harm cannabis may cause to most individuals’ quality of sleep.

While it isn’t the answer most consumers want to hear, the jury’s still out. Select studies have concluded that cannabis has the potential to address various sleep-related symptoms and medical conditions that affect sleep. At the same time, other studies suggest that cannabis could have adverse effects on how we rest. 

Sleep-associated conditions like anxiety and restless leg syndrome (RLS) have shown potential in select reports. With RLS, patients may have an uncontrollable urge to move their legs. In 2020, a French study noted that patients reported near or total remission of RLS symptoms when using cannabis. 

However, other results haven't been as promising. In 2019, an analysis of adult psychiatric patients with sleep disorders delved into the effects of medical cannabis and psychiatric medication. The combination improved anxiety levels and sleep scores during the first month. Scores remained positive in the following months for anxiety, but sleep scores fluctuated. 

In 2016, a study of 98 individuals noted that after accounting for depression and anxiety symptoms, cannabis had an insignificant effect on sleep. Meanwhile, researchers reported that daily cannabis users have more sleep disturbances than their counterparts. 

According to select medical professionals, medical cannabis use has been discouraged in certain conditions. In 2018, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine stated that cannabis did not help treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea. The medical condition occurs when throat muscles excessively relax, preventing you from breathing. With limited reports of its efficacy and minimal lab research, the group concluded that cannabis has "differential effects, with variable efficacy and side effects."

The uncertainty or negative results can confuse or even frustrate those suffering from sleep issues. While valid, keep in mind that research is only in its infancy. With hope, we'll have more definitive answers as legalization grows. 

How Does Cannabis Work as a Sleep Aid? 

can cannabis help you sleep

The ineffective or negative results reached by some researchers is met by contrasting views from others in the medical and research fields. Noting the sedative effects of various cannabis strains, some lab studies and numerous anecdotes support that cannabis may work as a sleep aid. 

A 2014 University of Penn review of 39 manuscripts on the topic led them to note that cannabis appears to improve sleep quality without impacting sleep times. However, the UPenn team also stated that most studies carried a substantial risk for bias, and the group cautioned that more research on dosing and impact is required. 

A 2022 report by the Sleep Foundation highlighted cannabis' potential positive impact on RLS, citing the same study mentioned above. The study also noted that many self-medicate with cannabis to treat their sleep, insomnia, anxiety and pain issues. Seemingly refuting this anecdotal evidence, it also concluded that regular cannabis use had been linked to increased sleep-related problems. 

Despite the less than glowing conclusions so far, many consumers still assert that cannabis has the potential to treat some sleep issues. Proponents of the practice cite THC and CBD as active compounds while crediting some minor cannabinoids for helping improve their sleep. 

Does Cannabis Always Make You Sleepy? 

Sleeping while high is common, especially when sedative strains (typically Indica strains) are involved. Still, it would be best to remember that each person reacts to cannabis differently. 

For most people, sleeping while high is a foregone conclusion. After consuming, you more than expect to hit the hay. However, rather than experience sedative, relaxing effects, some people may find themselves stimulated or energized. This result can come from the strain or possibly the dosage. People need to think beyond indica (sedative) and sativa (energizing) with strains. While these distinctions may prove true in some plants chemovars, others won't adhere to the effects. Instead, the whole plant profile is likely to determine the overall impact a strain delivers. 

Remember that other life factors may impact how cannabis could help us. While we have some idea of what happens when you sleep high, numerous factors can change the outcome. 

Some of those factors that may affect your cannabis experience (and how it impacts your sleep) include:

  • Your body size and weight
  • If you've eaten recently
  • If you're tired
  • How the plant was grown
  • Plant age
  • Plant's profile

What are the Risks of Using Cannabis as a Sleeping Aid?

For most consumers suffering from sleep issues, cannabis use isn’t likely to lead to any acute adverse effects. That said, safe cannabis consumption requires acknowledging the risks involved, however unlikely they may be. 

We still aren't sure how long-term cannabis use affects our brain structure. A 2014 study found that regular cannabis use led to a decline in gray matter, a critical tissue in the brain. Researchers also concluded that a person's age could influence the magnitude of the effects they experience. 

Cannabis use disorder is always a concern for medical and adult use consumers. Select studies have reported that between 9% and 30% of cannabis consumers will become addicted at some point. Anecdotes from consumers likely would contest those numbers. It should also be noted that studies into cannabis addiction are in their infancy at this time. 

If a person becomes addicted to cannabis, they could encounter withdrawal effects when attempting to quit. These cannabis withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood changes
  • Irritability
  • Sleep issues, notably insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Diminished focus
  • Cannabis cravings
  • Body temperature changes, chills and sweats
  • Depression
  • Stomach pain

How is Cannabis Different from Other Sleeping Aids? 

Sleep aids have existed for years, offering potential help to various sleep sufferers. Individuals with milder symptoms or less frequent sleep issues are typically recommended over-the-counter remedies. Medical professionals may recommend a prescription option for those with more severe, longer-term symptoms and conditions.  

Overall, the eight primary non-cannabis sleeping aids are:

  • 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): Increases serotonin levels and is derived from the amino acid tryptophan
  • Chamomile: A calming herb often found in nighttime teas 
  • Ginseng: An herbal medicine used for sleep and immune system boosting  
  • Hops: Made from female hops plants, most commonly associated with beer  
  • Lavender: An aromatic herb used in various natural medicine practices  
  • Melatonin: A common OTC sleep pill used to control circadian rhythms  
  • Passionflower: A plant used in herbal blends known for its calming effects  
  • Valerian: A sedating herbal medicine made from the root of a Valerian plant  

There has been an ongoing debate over natural and prescription sleep aids (though cannabis has tipped the scale for many consumers). The worry about pharmaceuticals tends to center on critical issues like drug dependence and consuming a lab-produced product rather than natural ingredients. On the other hand, natural herbs are rarely regulated and could be mislabeled or contain inaccurate ingredients. 

Practical Tips When Using Cannabis for Sleep 

Responsible consumption is always advised, whether using CBD, THC or any other remedy for sleep. 

Tips for using cannabis as a sleep aid

Before trying cannabis or any other sleep products, inform yourself of the risks and rewards. Learn about cannabis and any other options you may consume. Try to speak with other people who've used it if possible. Or, at the very least, go online and read about other people's experiences. And above all else, consult with a medical professional whenever possible.

When using cannabis for sleep, be sure to do the following:

  1. Consume cannabis at a time that coincides with your desired rest time
  2. Choose a consumption method that delivers effects when you'd like (e.g. Smoking takes immediate effect, edibles can take 30-90 minutes)
  3. Don't mix cannabis with alcohol or other drugs
  4. Be careful if pairing with other sleep aids. Consume low doses

Learn more about the differences between Smoking vs Edibles and Which is Better for Your Needs

Recommended CBD Sleep Products

A plethora of CBD sleep products are available for you to choose from. From flower to vapes to edibles and more, cannabis consumers have found dozens of pot-based products to aid them in their sleep. 

Vape enthusiasts may want to start with a product like Jetty's unrefined live resin made from Do-Si-Do strains. Meanwhile, edibles fans looking to hydrate while they medicate can grab a lemon seltzer from Pabst Blue Ribbon – don't worry, there won't be any booze in your infused drink despite the producer's famous brewing history.

CBD isn't your only option, either. For some consumers, THC may be better suited as a potential sleep aid. Early stage studies have also identified several other cannabinoids that could help with rest. One of the more promising is cannabinol (CBN). Known for producing relaxing, sleep-like effects, CBN has piqued the interest of many consumers and brands looking to corner the cannabis sleep market (backed by, you guessed it, anecdotes and minimal lab studies). Like THC and CBD, we aren't exactly sure of CBN's efficacy. With mixed lab studies so far, it’s best to exercise caution, even if ample anecdotes from consumers claim to know the answers. 

While cannabis has shown promise as a sleep aid, countering conclusions can claim otherwise. With much uncertainty from lab studies, we're left to form opinions based largely on early stage research and anecdotal evidence. With so much left to be discovered, use caution and consume responsibly, whether it be THC, CBD or otherwise. 

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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