Separating Fact from Fiction
Even before Cannabis was legalized in Canada, there was a good amount of buzz over the possible health benefits it could contribute to. While clinical trials investigating the link between Cannabis and positive health benefits are sadly few; anecdotal evidences show that using the substance can have a great impact on a user’s life. Seizure disorders, PTSD, cancer, and insomnia have all been treated with Cannabis, with stunning results. But where do we go from here? Is there concrete proof Cannabis can help us with a variety of medical issues; or is it another example of modern-day snake oil?
Insomnia can typically begin to affect a person’s life during times of intense stress, anxiety, or other even chronic pain such as multiple sclerosis or fibromyalgia. It is estimated between 30% of adults suffer from short-term acute insomnia; where as 10% suffer from chronic, possibly life-long insomnia.
Cannabis Vs. Insomnia: How it Works
There are two forms of Cannabis that are commonly used for fighting insomnia and other health ailments. These take the titles of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol). Commonly, cannabis including THC is the more widely used substance due to its psychoactive and euphoric effects. THC-Cannabis can also be used as a sedative, as it causes the body to relax and the mind to slow down; which may help insomnia suffers dealing with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. Additionally, terpenes in the Cannabis itself may assist with insomnia. Terpenes bind to the brains GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric acid) system, which sends
signals to other parts of the brain to reduce anxiety and stress and induce sleep.
CBD functions relatively the same, but with a bit of a twist. While CBD can alleviate insomnia, chronic pain, anxiety, and inflammation; it won’t get you high much like THC will. CBD lacks the psychoactive qualities of its more widely-used cousin, which can be a bonus for insomnia sufferers dealing with day-time fatigue; as CBD can make you more alert.
Research and Harm Reduction: The Facts
As stated before, while there’s very few studies to draw any scientific certainties about the effectiveness of Cannabis on battling insomnia; some studies do yield positive results which deserve a closer look. In one example during a study in 2018 by the NMH, 409 subjects were put through 1056 trials in which they consumed raw, medical cannabis. Their sleep was then tracked using an app known as ‘Releaf’, which showed a significant increase in overall time slept, and the quality of the sleep itself. In a 2008 study, it was shown that Cannabis with high-amounts of THC could reduce the amount of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which means they may not dream as much. This is a double-edged sword, as it can assist those suffering from PTSD-induced nightmares; but also cause an increase in a lack of quality sleep; as REM sleep is typically considered the most ‘restful’ by experts.
This isn’t to say however, that regular or heavy Cannabis use is not without its risks. High amounts of THC can cause adverse reactions such as nausea, vomiting, anxiety, or panic attacks (often refered to as ‘greening out.’) It is advised to follow the Canadian government guideline when using Cannabis of starting with a small amount first; which can significantly lessen the chance of a negative reaction by the user. Additionally, smoking Cannabis can produce tar in the lungs similar to those who smoke cigarettes. A persistent cough or congestion may develop with regular use, and users experiencing this should consider switching to THC and CBD oil; which can be taken orally without the need for smoking.
What we can see both through anecdotal and researched evidence is that Cannabis use is both widespread and effective in combating insomnia. Above all, there seems to be very little chance of negative interactions provided the user is careful about the intensity of their dose. With responsibility and mindfulness, a person can easily use Cannabis as a means of combating insomnia and getting back to a normal, healthier sleep.