Medical Cannabis and Sleep Disorders

What is a Sleep Disorder?

Sleep disorders are medical conditions that prevent you from sleeping or getting rest. Beyond general fatigue, lack of sleep may contribute to a range of other health issues including mental health, heart and weight problems

Deloitte suggests that roughly one in five Australians suffer from some type of sleep disorder. Examples of sleep disorders include: 

  • Insomnia
  • Sleep Apnoea
  • Snoring
  • Bruxism
  • Restless Legs Syndrome
  • Circadian rhythm disorders
  • Central disorders of hypersomnolence (such as narcolepsy)

What Causes Sleep Disorders?

Sleep disorders are caused by disruptions to your body’s circadian rhythm. This is your internal ‘body clock’ and it regulates your temperature, hormones and sleep cycle. When your circadian rhythm is disturbed it can affect your quality of life, including the quality and duration of sleep. Common causes of sleep disorders include:

  • Physical illness
  • Mental disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Nightmares
  • Substance abuse
  • Lifestyle factors (such as working night shifts)
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Some medications
  • Age

What are Sleep Disorder Symptoms?

Sleep disorders affect many areas of your life, as they inhibit the body’s ability to repair itself. This can cause your mood to be affected, leaving you irritable and short-tempered. Symptoms of sleep disorders include:

  • Tiredness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Lowered immunity
  • Reduced sex drive

Medical Cannabis & Sleep Disorders

There have been numerous studies examining the effectiveness of medical cannabis to treat sleep disorders. The results vary between studies and so it is difficult to draw conclusive evidence about the effectiveness of medical cannabis to assist with sleep. That said, A 2014 review of 28 studies (with a combined 3,658 participants) showed that in 21 of the studies, patients reported that the use of medical cannabis resulted in a significant and positive impact on sleep.

Additionally, a study from CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics showed that some patients, especially those with PTSD, report that medical cannabis helps prevent nightmares.

Treating Sleep Disorders with Medical Cannabis

People experiencing difficulty sleeping will often try over-the-counter sleep aids (e.g. melatonin) or prescription sleep medications (e.g. stilnox), both of which fall into a group of medications called hypnotics. Hypnotic medications can produce unwanted side effects including grogginess and loss of memory.

Patients may experience difficulty sleeping if they are not receiving adequate treatment for another medical condition such chronic pain or anxiety. In such situations, medical cannabis may be an effective treatment option to serve multiple purposes by potentially replacing both pain and sleep medications.

Patients experiencing better quality of sleep with the use of medical cannabis often report a quicker onset of sleep, the ability to stay asleep through the night, and feeling well rested upon awakening.

There are a variety of medical cannabis treatment options which may be used in order to achieve better sleep. Anecdotal clinical evidence suggests inhalation (i.e. vaping) or sublingual administration of THC-rich cannabis may help with the onset of sleep, while ingestion of medical cannabis (e.g. high CBD capsules) may assist to prevent waking in the middle of the night.

Medical Cannabis and Sleep Disorder Advice

Always consult your doctor before taking any kind of medication. You should not discontinue treatment with any sleep medication unless directed by your doctor. Doing so may cause adverse and unwanted withdrawal symptoms including rebound insomnia (which is poor sleep caused by the brain adjusting to the lack of sleeping pills). For this reason, your doctor may choose to slowly introduce medical cannabis into your existing treatment to minimise sleep disturbances.

Plant-based medicines may help with:

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