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Marijuana As A Sleep Aid: The Facts

Medically reviewed by Smita Patel, DO, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on January 9, 2023

Once demonized, marijuana is slowly becoming socially acceptable. Liberal-minded countries all over the world are beginning to legalize the substance, and public attitudes are gradually changing. Even the term “marijuana” is falling out of favor in exchange for “cannabis.” It seems that soon enough, the leafy shrub will reclaim its social status as a benign remedy for a wide range of ailments. 


Indeed, prior to the U.S. Government declaring the drug to be as dangerous as heroin, marijuana was once widely used across America to treat afflictions such as general pain, nausea, and headaches. One disorder that marijuana was also commonly prescribed for is insomnia, or the inability to fall asleep. And today, it’s used by many for the same purpose.


Can marijuana really be used as a sleep aid?


Many cannabis users insist that smoking the drug before bed helps them fall asleep in a matter of minutes. But is falling into this routine a good idea? While marijuana has few adverse health effects, is using it to fall asleep a harmless practice, or should it be avoided?


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Sleep Tips - Medication Effects

Sleep Tips - Medication Effects

Let’s take a look at the research. A 2011 study, the largest of its kind, examined the effects of cannabis on insomnia. The study included 166 patients, of whom 116 reported having sleep difficulties. Of those 116 patients, 108 used cannabis regularly, in varying amounts. 


The study came to a number of conclusions. First, investigators determined that all patients who ingested cannabis before bed fell asleep significantly faster (30 minutes faster, to be exact) than those who did not use the drug. Second, it was found that 79 percent of the individuals with insomnia had improved sleep quality after smoking marijuana. 


Other studies show similar results. The conclusion across the board, then, seems to be that marijuana is great for sleep, right? Not necessarily.


How marijuana impacts your sleep


Yes, marijuana does appear to help you fall asleep faster, as well as enter a deeper state of unconsciousness, but that’s not all. Marijuana also reduces your time spent in REM sleep. The REM sleep stage is when most of your dreaming occurs, and lack of time spent in this stage can cause various health problems. Obesity, inflammation, diabetes, heart disease, and memory issues have all been linked to REM sleep loss. 


Much of the science of sleep is still a mystery, and we still don’t know the full consequences of REM sleep deprivation. But it’s safe to assume that ingesting something that inhibits REM sleep on a regular basis can’t be a good idea. 


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Alcohol and Sleep

Alcohol and Sleep

So should I use marijuana to help me sleep or not?


If you’ve tried everything and you still can’t doze off, you may be tempted to try cannabis. Even though the drug does interfere with REM sleep, it can still give you that good night’s rest you’ve been trying to achieve for so long. So should you give it a shot? 


It’s up to you, but if you decide to try it, know how to use it properly. Here’s how to avoid any potential risks.


  • Don’t break the law. If marijuana is still illegal where you live, it’s a bad idea to risk procuring it. 
  • Don’t use it every night. Give your brain a chance to enter REM sleep every now and then. 
  • Talk to your doctor. See if he or she can give you any insights.
  • Avoid smoking cannabis. Inhaling smoke is never really a good idea. If you’ve decided to test out your new sleep medication, opt for edibles, a tincture, or vaporizer to keep your lungs in good shape. 


Written by Natan Rosenfeld

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