April 3, 2024

Does marijuana actually help with sleep problems?

Dr. Deirdre Conroy is quoted in this Channel 4 article. 

link to the original article

ANN ARBOR TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Millions of Americans regularly use marijuana, but one of the reasons why may surprise you.

Studies find around half are using the drug to help them sleep, but is that an effective strategy?

Evidence of the drug’s effectiveness for sleep is actually mixed.

While marijuana may have benefits in the short term, in the long run, experts believe it could actually make your sleep worse.

“When we look at the effects of marijuana on sleep, we tend to see that in the short term, it does help people fall asleep and improves the sleep quality in the first part of the night,” said Dr. Deirdre Conroy, a sleep psychologist with University of Michigan Health. “In the second part of the night, you can have more awakenings and fragmented sleep.”

Using marijuana routinely to get to sleep may have a negative impact.

“In the long term, some of the improvements that people experience with marijuana can wane and insomnia can return with more frequent use and abrupt discontinuation of marijuana,” Conroy said.

It’s thought that cannabis binds to specific receptors in the brain, sending sleeping-promoting messages and reducing the brain’s arousal. How it’s used can also impact its effect on sleep.

“For example, if we inhale cannabis, you might have a faster onset of action,” Conroy said. “Whereas if we’re ingesting it might have a slower onset of action, and therefore impact sleep differently.”

Conroy also notes marijuana products are stronger than they once were -- another reason to consult your doctor first.

“When my patients ask me about marijuana and sleep, I usually remind them that the research is still in its infancy, the availability of marijuana has really outpaced the science,” Conroy said. “So, it’s really important for the patients to discuss their use of marijuana with their doctors.”

Ultimately, marijuana is like many other sleep aids where it may help things short-term, but it can make things worse long-term.

The results can also vary by condition. For example, there’s some research to suggest marijuana may be more effective for people who are having trouble sleeping because of chronic pain, restless legs, PTSD or MS.

CBD, another chemical promoted for sleep and pain relief, can be helpful for sleep and pain, but it can be less effective in higher doses.