medical marijuana and insomnia

Can You Use Cannabis to Restore Your Natural Sleep Cycle?

Insomnia isn’t that uncommon

Sleep is essential for maintaining our mental and physical health, yet it eludes many adults.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 50 to 70 million U.S. adults experience symptoms of a sleep disorder. About 30 to 40 percent of the population will experience insomnia at some point in their lives, and about 10 to 15 percent of adults will deal with chronic insomnia.

So if getting shut-eye is becoming harder and harder, you’re not alone.

With so many people experiencing sleeping disorders, there’s been a rise of interest in one controversial cure: cannabis. Many in the medical marijuana community refer to cannabis as an effective treatment, with little to no side effects, for a range of sleeping disorders.

“Marijuana is an effective sleep aid because it restores a person’s natural sleep cycle, which so often falls out of sync with our schedules in today’s modern lifestyle,” says Dr. Matt Roman, a medical marijuana physician.

Whether you have a sleep disorder or you’re having difficulty sleeping after a stressful day, cannabis might be a choice for you. Marijuana’s analgesic properties might provide some relief for those with chronic pain, while the anti-anxiety properties can soothe a stressed out mind and body.

There are different strains of marijuana. Some are more energizing, and some are calming and sedating depending on the balance of the different cannabinoids.

First, here’s a quick primer on the science behind marijuana. This herb works because it contains different cannabinoids, two of which you’ll see most often:

  • Cannabidiol (CBD). CBD has a number of health benefits, and is nonpsychoactive, meaning it doesn’t cause you to feel “high.”
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC, a psychoactive cannabinoid, is primarily responsible for that “high” feeling.

Something else THC is responsible for? Inducing sleep . So you’ll want a strain that contains more THC than CBD.

According to a 2008 study , ingesting marijuana strains with higher levels of THC typically reduces the amount of REM sleep you get. Reducing REM sleep means reducing dreams — and for those who experience PTSD, it could mean reducing nightmares.

So the theory is that if you spend less time dreaming, you’ll spend more time in a “deep sleep” state. The deep sleep state is thought to be the most restorative, restful part of the sleep cycle.

Still, REM is important for healthy cognitive and immune functioning, and marijuana with higher THC levels could impair your sleep quality if taken long term.

But this isn’t true across the board. Some studies have found that sleep can actually be impaired by regular use of marijuana. It’s clear that marijuana changes sleep cycles.

Smoking of any kind is a known health risk and should be approached with caution. Also, medicinal use of marijuana is still illegal in many areas.

Talk to your doctor about your sleep cycles. There may be long-term health consequences with interrupted REM, because much of the immune function repair takes place in deep sleep.

Please use marijuana responsibly. As with all forms of smoking, your risk of COPD can increase. Smoking marijuana is hazardous to the lungs, especially for those with asthma or other respiratory conditions. The use of marijuana while pregnant or breastfeeding isn’t recommended.

Long-term marijuana use has been shown to have changes on the amount of gray matter in the brain. For teenagers, marijuana seems to have even more profound long-term and lasting effects on the brain and isn’t recommended.

Marijuana use isn’t recommended for anyone under 25 years of age because of the long-term effects on learning and recall.

More research on marijuana for medicinal purposes as well as the risk of COPD is still needed.

Is cannabis an answer to entering the land of sleep? From strains to timing, here’s what you need to know about cannabis as a nightcap.

Marijuana for Insomnia?

Is marijuana better or worse than currently available drugs?

Posted Apr 21, 2019


  • Why Is Sleep Important?
  • Find a sleep therapist near me

Good sleep is an elusive luxury. After a stressful day it can take forever to get to sleep. The severity of insomnia typically worsens as we age. Every year after puberty it becomes more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Insomnia leaves us feeling dissatisfied with our sleep and facing the new day with fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, generalized anxiety and decreased performance in work or at school. There are many causes for insomnia, including changes in our sleeping environment, shift work, clinical disorders such as depression or mania and most medications. Over-the-counter and prescriptions medications are common solutions for the complex causes of insomnia.

Unfortunately, the treatment options currently available do not help most people who suffer from insomnia. A drug that can produce a normal sleep pattern does not currently exist. Worse, our current medications show tolerance with repeated use that requires us to take higher and higher doses. Ultimately, when we finally stop taking them, we suffer with unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, primarily severe insomnia. The insomnia is made worse by the terrible nightmares that occur during the first few nights of sleep after stopping many of the most popular prescription medications.

The internet offers many claims that marijuana, or one of its components, such as THC or CBD, can treat insomnia and provide a night of restful sleep. Is this true? This is what we know from the relatively few well-controlled studies that have been performed.

Medical marijuana is as safe as the standard OTC and prescription medications currently available. However, medical marijuana shares many of the same problems associated with standard OTC and prescription medications. The use of medical marijuana does not improve sleep quality or reduce the severity of insomnia. Marijuana dose-dependently produces poor sleep quality. The reason that marijuana does not improve sleep quality is related to the fact that the endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitter system in our brain is not directly involved in the onset or maintenance of normal sleep cycles. Therefore, marijuana cannot, and does not, produce normal sleep patterns. Marijuana increases the lighter stages of sleep, known as NREM slow wave sleep; consequently, it decreases the amount of time spent in REM sleep. REM sleep is usually called dream sleep. Not getting enough REM sleep has many bad consequences, such as an increased risk for obesity, significant memory problems and mood disorders. Getting adequate REM sleep is critical for people with bipolar disorder. Depressed patients who used cannabis reported significantly more sleep impairments. Using marijuana to help fall asleep was also associated with frequent night-time awakenings.

Marijuana might be useful for people who suffer with chronic pain disorders. One study found a marked improvement in subjective sleep parameters provided by the patients with a wide variety of pain conditions including multiple sclerosis, peripheral neuropathic pain, intractable cancer pain and rheumatoid arthritis. Chronic pain, neurological illness, and sleep disorders are clearly comorbid conditions with insomnia. Marijuana likely improves sleep via its ability to reduce pain symptoms.

Cannabidiol (CBD), a constituent of marijuana, was much worse than marijuana. CBD disrupted sleep patterns by reducing both NREM sleep and REM sleep. CBD alone is useless for insomnia.

Similar to currently available medications, nightly use of marijuana produces tolerance that requires higher and higher doses. Withdrawal from marijuana use is associated with poor sleep quality and insomnia. Thus, overall, the available evidence shows that medical marijuana is not superior to currently available medications. The use of marijuana for the treatment of insomnia is associated with side-effects that are similar to those associated with standard insomnia therapies. Overall, the use of medical marijuana for insomnia should be limited to only occasional use in order to avoid the development of tolerance, rebound insomnia and the negative consequences of long-term REM sleep suppression upon daytime cognitive functioning.

© Gary L. Wenk, Ph.D.

I am the author of Your Brain on Food (3rd Edition, 2019; Oxford University Press) and I conduct pre-clinical studies on medical marijuana.

Sleep continuity, architecture and quality among treatment-seeking cannabis users: an in-home, unattended polysomnographic study. By: Pacek, Lauren R.; Herrmann, Evan S.; Smith, Michael T.; et al. EXPERIMENTAL AND CLINICAL PSYCHOPHARMACOLOGY, Volume: 25 Pages: 295-302, 2017

Marijuana use patterns and sleep among community-based young adults. By: Conroy, Deirdre A.; Kurth, Megan E.; Strong, David R.; et al. JOURNAL OF ADDICTIVE DISEASES, Volume: 35, Pages: 135-143, 2016.

Cannabis withdrawal and sleep: A systematic review of (36) human studies. By: Gates, Peter; Albertella, Lucy; Copeland, Jan. SUBSTANCE ABUSE Volume: 37 Pages: 255-269, 2016

Dose-dependent cannabis use, depressive symptoms, and FAAH genotype predict sleep quality in emerging adults: a pilot study. By: Maple, Kristin E.; McDaniel, Kymberly A.; Shollenbarger, Skyler G.; et al. AMERICAN JOURNAL OF DRUG AND ALCOHOL ABUSE Volume: 42 Pages: 431-440, 2016

Effect of cannabidiol on sleep disruption induced by the repeated combination tests consisting of open field and elevated plus-maze in rats. By: Hsiao, Yi-Tse; Yi, Pei-Lu; Li, Chia-Ling; et al. NEUROPHARMACOLOGY Volume: 62 Pages: 373-384, 2012

Multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the efficacy, safety, and tolerability of THC: CBD extract. Johnson JR, Burnell-Nugent M, Lossignol D, Ganae-Motan ED, Potts R, Fallon MT. J PAIN SYMPTOM MANAGE. Volume 39, pages 167-79, 2010.

The effects of cannabinoid administration on sleep: a systematic review of human studies. Peter J. Gates, Lucy Albertella, Jan Copeland, SLEEP MEDICINE REVIEWS Volume 18, pages 477-487, 2014

Cannabis use and the development of tolerance: a systematic review of human evidence. By: Colizzi, Marco; Bhattacharyya, Sagnik, iNEUROSCIENCE AND BIOBEHAVIORAL REVIEWS Volume: 93 Pages: 1-25, 2018

Marijuana works great for insomnia (for me)

I work with high voltage, usually about 60 feet off the ground. I also suffer from insomnia. Regular treatments for insomnia often left me groggy for hours after I would wake up. This would cause a dangerous work environment for me. I started using marijuana (specifically Indica dominant) about 7 years ago, and the change was amazing. I would fall asleep within minutes of going to bed. I would sleep the whole night, and I would not feel groggy when I woke up.
I would suggest more research be done, because for me, at least, marijuana has been the best medicine for my insomnia.

  • Reply to David
  • Quote David

Marijuana is the one thing I

Marijuana is the one thing I can use to sleep but doesn’t make me feel horrible for a couple of days afterwards. for me it’s better than any pharmaceutical put out by drug companies.

  • Reply to Anonymous
  • Quote Anonymous

I can say from experience that MJ doesn’t work for sleep.
It prevents me from dreaming, and I suspect that dreaming is necessary for good sleep. When I stop for a few days, I start to dream again. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
The best thing for sleep is not to take anything for a few days, then reassess what you need.

  • Reply to Nemo
  • Quote Nemo

Your experience is not universal

You can say the MJ doesn’t work for you for insomnia, but you cannot draw a generalization from your own experience. yeah, like most drugs, it will not work for everyone.

  • Reply to Randy
  • Quote Randy

Still helpful psychologically?

I am not surprised by the findings that marijuana did not produce restful sleep; anyone who has suffered from insomnia can attest that it can be incredibly stressful as one attempts to fall asleep and fears/dreads that sleep will not come, and then finds it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think that the simple fact that marijuana enables an insomnia sufferer to fall asleep at all and get past the psychological suffering of spending the entire night awake makes it worthwhile even if it doesn’t produce good-quality sleep.

  • Reply to Scarlett
  • Quote Scarlett

There are four questions that need to asked about any new sleep med:

1. Does it work and do you stay asleep?
2. Are you refreshed the next morning when you wake up or are you hung over?
3. Does it mimic sleep architecture? There is a difference between sedation and sleep.
4. How does it compare to good standard conventional treatment, like Lunesta or nonpharm treatment in mild cases? Until that triple or quad blind study is done, we should not entertain it as an alternative.

  • Reply to James OBrien MD
  • Quote James OBrien MD

marijuana for sleep

Dr OBrien
I’ve suffered a lifetime of severe refractory sleep onset insomnia.
No pharmaceutical or CB therapy has been effective in the long (or usually even short) term. Here’s how I would answer the questions you suggest asking oneself.
1. Does it work and do you stay asleep?
Consistently, night time use of marijuana shortens the delay of sleep onset in a way that no other therapy has.
2. I have zero hangover from small dose night time marijuana use. Conversely, I have had major hangovers from almost all other sleep aids I have tried, except Clonazepam, which I am now told is not okay to use long term because of the possibility for geriatric falls and dementia.
3. Does it mimic sleep architecture?
How do we really know what it does, because of such a paucity of real clinical trials due to the illegal status of marijuana at the federal level?
It allows me to initiate sleep, as it does many. Given the choice between zero – three hours of sleep because I can’t initiate sleep and 7-8 hours of sleep because night time low dose marijuana
allows me to initiate sleep and therefore be functional the next day as opposed to a sleep deprived zombie, sleep architecture is of secondary importance. What good does it do to talk about sleep architecture when you can’t even fall asleep? I’m sure you are aware of the health risks associated with severe sleep deprivation.
4, How does it compare to “good standard conventional treatment” like Lunesta? My doctors and clinical research tell me that “good standard conventional” are implicated in next day impairment, worsening depression and increased suicide risk, doing things in your “sleep” like eating and driving, headache, dizziness, falls, and the list continues. No sedative hypnotics are approved for long term use, which is of no help to the long term insomniac.
You also answered your own question in #4, saying that until triple or quadruple blind studies are done, we should not entertain marijuana as an alternative. Given how slow we have been to do any such study, and the relative efficacy and lack of next day side effects, many of use don’t have the luxury of waiting for this study. We need to get enough sleep to function at work and play. If a puff of marijuana can help us to do that, who are you to make the sweeping statement that we should not entertain it as an alternative? All you succeed in doing by saying this is to make it more of a taboo and thus to make users more hesitant to have honest conversations with our doctors about it.
Laura Nelson

  • Reply to Laura Nelson
  • Quote Laura Nelson

Marijuana and sleep

If it helps me sleep, then the four question are quite irrelevant to my results. When you consider drugs such as Ambien and Temazem have been found by scientific studies to put consumers at a much higher risk of Alzheimer’s and cancer, not considering it now is not a rational approach.

No sleep meds are known to mimic sleep architecture.
The question you didn’t ask and should have is “does it provide relief with less severe side effects?”

There are four questions that need to asked about any new sleep med:

1. Does it work and do you stay asleep?
2. Are you refreshed the next morning when you wake up or are you hung over?
3. Does it mimic sleep architecture? There is a difference between sedation and sleep.
4. How does it compare to good standard conventional treatment, like Lunesta or nonpharm treatment in mild cases? Until that triple or quad blind study is done, we should not entertain it as an alternative.

  • Reply to Randy
  • Quote Randy

The biggest thing for me is

The biggest thing for me is that I trust marijuana growers more than I trust western medicine and pharmaceutical companies. And it helps me sleep.

  • Reply to Anonymous
  • Quote Anonymous

Say what you want about pharma

and there’s a lot to criticize.

but at least it’s quantitative medicine.

marijuana seems to be the only drug where people aren’t too worried about taking the right amount. and don’t even ask

which is why Colorado is running into huge problems with ODs especially on edibles.

  • Reply to James OBrien MD
  • Quote James OBrien MD

Quantitative medicine

Yep, quantitative medicine that correlates zolpidem to a higher risk of Alheimer’s. Even if you take “the right amount.” is 2 people what you “quantify” as a “huge” problem with ODs in CO? 12 people? You offered no quantification of huge. Now let’s talk science too. What is your population? Are you talking about a huge OD problem with patients seeking insomnia relief?

It is really hard to believe you are an MD. You don’t support your arguments with the scientific rigor of any doctor I have ever talked to.

  • Reply to Randy
  • Quote Randy


Did anyone take a look at this Doctors sources? They are a bunch of biased drug war sites.

Not one big evidence based research study or any for that matter, because he used all US studies and we consider marijuana a schedule I substance. Of course the FDA approved medicines are going to be “better”

And furthermore, saying the side effects of drugs like Ambien and Lunesta are comparable to marijuana.

How do you even live with yourself doctor? Maybe this is the reason you have so much trouble sleeping as you get older. You realize what you are saying isn’t actually true, but you keep saying it.

  • Reply to Jim K
  • Quote Jim K

Cannabinoid works for me!

Everyone differs when it comes to taking marijuana. Some feel relieve and see results when taking it but others do not have. But for me, I have been using cannabinoid for couple of months now and it really improves my sleeping quality. You can order it here momcanada. ca.

Many people suffer occasional insomnia. Is medical marijuana a good alternative to currently available medications? Will smoking weed give you a good night's sleep? ]]>