Why is cannabis keeping me awake?
Is a sleep joint a good idea?
To animal documentaries, at the Fifa- Gambling, before sex or listening to music - the occasions for smoking weed are as diverse as the stoners themselves. People do not only smoke cannabis for relaxation or out of habit, but also for self-medication - most often with sleep problems. Chances are, a friend or the internet advised you to have a small bag before you brushed if you have trouble falling asleep. Both among persuasive cigarettes and in the popular culture canon, the idea persists that certain types of grass help you get a quick and restful sleep.
However, the connection is far less clear. Much of what is considered a fact about smoking weed and sleep is at best simplified or simply questionable. In truth, says Jeffrey Raber, founder of the weed testing laboratory The Werc Shop, "we don't really know much" about the effects of weed on sleep. However, that does not mean that cannabis is in principle unsuitable as a sleep aid, he adds. Consumers should question everything that they have heard about it so far. Weed should only be used as a sleep aid with a solid basic knowledge and caution.
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Indica or Sativa to sleep in?
Probably the oldest and most stubborn wisdom in stoners' circles is that calming indica strains are better for falling asleep than stimulating sativa strains. In the USA, where cannabis is legally available in several states, hemp portals such as High Times or Leafly regularly publish lists of indicas and some hybrid strains that are supposed to send you to the land of dreams. Raber and other researchers criticize that these lists are largely based on imprecise testimonials from other users, who may themselves have been influenced by other reports.
"People mostly buy indicas to help them fall asleep," says the American psychologist Marcel Bonn-Miller, who studies the effects of cannabis on anxiety and sleep. "That doesn't mean indicas are better at sleeping than sativas, though. In fact, there's no evidence that the two strains are very different." Bonn-Miller believes that people buy indicas mainly because others have recommended it to them.
The distinction between indica and sativa strains is superficial or simply misleading, say Bonn-Miller and other researchers. Because two indicas can contain very different concentrations of active ingredients and have a correspondingly different effect on sleep behavior. Even if breeding and sales are regulated, as in the USA, the same varieties from different shops do not necessarily have the same chemical profile. Even the quality of one indica crop can differ significantly from that of the next from the same grower - and appear correspondingly different.
This particularly encourages those who are of the opinion that cannabis is too unpredictable in terms of its effects to be used as a sleep aid. The American cannabis pharmacologist Ryan Vandery also says that weed in its natural form is chemically complex and, above all, unreliable. It is difficult to predict precisely how a particular crop will affect a person's sleep.
In the past, researchers have found that some cannabis components "have a direct and fairly pronounced effect on our sleep," says Vandery. THC, he says, knocks people out faster and can reduce their REM sleep, i.e. the dream phase. This can especially help people with post-traumatic stress or anxiety disorders who suffer from nightmares at night. CBD is better suited for people with depression because it promotes easier and more restful sleep - people with anxiety disorders could also benefit from this property.
However, research in this area has only just begun - above all, there have been hardly any studies on humans so far, emphasizes Bonn-Miller. Sleep problems could also have a variety of causes - from restless head to restless leg - as Kymron deCesare, research director at the Steep Hill cannabis testing laboratory, says. Every problem could call for a completely different mix of active ingredients - and for some, grass may not help at all or even harm.
Research has shown that cannabis and its components can also have adverse effects on sleep. According to some studies, CBD seems to make people more awake than tired. Different doses of THC can also produce extremely different effects - and aggravate negative symptoms like anxiety instead of alleviating them. In addition, THC can have undesirable long-term effects, such as persistent morning fatigue. This hangover effect is why researchers wrote off THC as a possible sleep aid in the 1970s, according to Vandery. Nonetheless, the frequency and severity of the "weed hangover" is still controversial among researchers.
Above all, the long-term use of cannabis can lead to the fact that users develop a tolerance that significantly reduces its sleep-inducing properties. This not only makes cannabis less useful as a sleep aid, but in the worst case leads to withdrawal symptoms that worsen the sleep disorders. In theory, the correct dose or frequency could mitigate possible negative effects. However, research is not yet far enough to provide tangible guidelines.
However, only very few of the people seeking help notice all of the uncertainties. Avid proponents of weed and, in countries like the United States, traders in particular, tend to treat evidence of the potential healing powers of cannabis as incontrovertible evidence. Conflicting results are often ignored. In any case, this is the experience of cannabis doctor Jordan Tishler. He and other experts attribute this to a mixture of ignorance and greed. "The sellers are definitely not going to say, 'Oh, you better not buy this,' to someone who wants to buy a product from them," Vandery said.
However, that doesn't mean that grass can't be used as a sleep aid at all. Most researchers believe that the effects need to be investigated in more detail in humans and that the effects of the rest of the components of cannabis - beyond CBD and THC - also need to be researched. The terpenes, for example, which give the grass varieties their aroma and taste, are particularly interesting. It is believed that their effect on humans is stronger than previously assumed. It still has to be investigated how these substances interact with different phases of sleep.
Until these studies are available, according to Tishler, nobody should advertise cannabis products as sleep aids. That could even undermine the medicinal benefits of cannabis in the future - for this and other problems. Until then, Bonn-Miller recommends that people with sleep problems rely on well-researched and highly effective treatment methods. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, gets to the bottom of the causes of insomnia, while grass, on the other hand, can only fight the symptoms.
OK, you still won't let that put you off smoking weed before going to sleep?
The researchers have a few pieces of advice ready for anyone who is dying to try cannabis as a sleep aid. Cannabis doctor Tishler recommends that all consumer, supplier or breeder claims be met with due skepticism. Laboratory operator Raber advises methodically and patiently trying out different varieties until you can find something that suits your body and sleep needs. Psychologist Bonn-Miller, on the other hand, urges you to start with low doses and slowly approach the amount that has the desired effect. In this way, adverse and undesirable effects could be avoided. Pharmacologist Vandery says this personal exploratory process should be accompanied by a doctor who understands the specific sleep issues. In Germany, however, cannabis has so far only been prescribed with special permits for sleep disorders. The bottom line is that all experts agree: the good night bag can at most be a temporary solution.
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