Sleep disorders appear to be increasingly prevalent in recent generations, and several factors are contributing to this trend. In this article we will take a look at the main causes for the sleep disorders along with the possible uses of cannabis to deal with them.
Understanding Sleep Disorders:
Sleep disorders encompass a range of conditions, including insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy, among others. These disorders disrupt the natural sleep-wake cycle, leading to difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or achieving restorative rest. Beyond a loss in quality of life, patients of these disorders face the risk of chronic disturbances that can be detrimental to both physical and mental health, over time impairing cognitive function, mood stability, nutrition and social relations.
The Endocannabinoid System
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a complex system made up of endocannabinoids produced by the body, enzymes and cannabinoid receptors found mostly in the brain and skin. The ECS is responsible for maintaining the balance of sleep-wake cycles and in cases of existing sleep disorders, an imbalance in the ECS may have occurred, which could be now affecting the proper functioning of the processes.
The Role of Cannabis:
Cannabis contains numerous compounds called cannabinoids, two of the most famous ones are THC and CBD. These molecules share similarities with the endocannabinoids produced in the human body and can link to the same receptors CB1 and CB2 of the endocannabinoid system. By doing that, they can interact with ECS, and modulate various physiological processes, including sleep.
Cannabis and Sleep Onset:
The primary challenge faced by individuals with sleep disorders is initiating sleep —either for the first time during that night or after they have been woken up. THC-rich strains of cannabis have shown to have sedative properties that may aid in sleep onset. It is important to consider that the optimal dosage and strain may vary for each individual, and further research is needed to elucidate the precise mechanisms underlying this effect.
Cannabis and Sleep Maintenance:
Maintaining uninterrupted sleep is crucial for overall sleep quality. CBD, another cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant, has shown promise in addressing this aspect of sleep disorders. CBD seems to interact with serotonin receptors and exert anxiolytic and analgesic effects, which can potentially reduce anxiety, pain, and other factors that often cause sleep interruptions.
REM Sleep and Cannabis:
Rapid eye movement (REM) is a cycle that occurs approximately every 90 minutes since a person falls asleep. During this phase is where vivid dreaming and memory consolidation take place. THC has been shown to inhibit or decrease REM sleep, which reduces dreaming and may help people who suffer from nightmares or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, the long-term effects of THC on sleep architecture need more research because continuous suppression of REM sleep may have unfavorable implications.
Potential Side Effects and Risks:
While cannabis shows promise in managing sleep disorders, we have to acknowledge there is always the possibility of encountering side effects and facing risks associated with its use. Probably not in most cases and not for most individuals but we have to be aware nevertheless. These may include cognitive impairment, dependency, withdrawal symptoms, and interactions with other medications. For that reason it is important to consume the best quality of products and always be aware of the percentages of cannabinoids in them, if possible by acquiring products from a reputable source and that are properly labeled. It is never recommendable to acquire cannabis from the street. For that purpose, here in Barcelona we have approved government institutions —dispensaries and weed clubs —that have knowledgeable staff that can advise on the content and quality of products and the best habits of consumption.
As a final disclaimer remember that it is always best to consult and follow the advice from your health care provider before attempting any treatment for sleep disorders with cannabis. Having said that, we can only hope that more countries in the world keep legalizing medicinal marijuana every year, so more and more people can get their hands on these natural remedies and improve their quality of sleep and thus their quality of life.