Between 50-70 million adults in the US suffer from sleep disorders, with insomnia being the most common. Insomnia is a huge issue, as the disorder is responsible for around 1,550 driving fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal driving injuries each year.¹
Many people use marijuana for insomnia and claim that it makes a significant difference. And unlike many conditions that people use the plant for, medical marijuana and insomnia have been somewhat studied by science.
Chronic v. acute insomnia and causes
Insomnia simply means having trouble falling asleep (onset), or staying asleep (maintenance). Some people experience both. Others may sleep well during the night but still not be rested because they wake up too early. There are two types of insomnia: primary insomnia, which means sleep issues aren’t linked to any other health conditions, and secondary insomnia. Secondary insomnia is caused by a health condition, and there are many conditions that can cause it, such as pain, depression, anxiety, endocrine problems or medications.3
Insomnia may also be acute or chronic. Everyone occasionally has acute insomnia; this is the type that can be caused from a variety of normal life experiences, such as a stressful event, worry or excitement. This kind of disruption in sleeping patterns usually resolves itself.
Chronic insomnia is the type that really interferes with daily life, and is defined as disrupted sleep occurring a minimum of three nights per week and lasting at least three months. There can be many causes for chronic insomnia besides the causes listed above for the secondary type. Some of these could be things like shift work, changes in the environment and poor sleep habits.2
Medical marijuana and insomnia
According to a report from a large market research company, US adults are increasingly using cannabis for medical purposes. The company surveyed over 2000 adults and found that 51% of those aged 18-34 said they used marijuana for sleep.4
In another survey of marijuana and insomnia that was undertaken in Hawai’i, researchers hand-delivered 100 surveys to patients who were returning for their annual medical cannabis re-certification. Out of a 94% response rate, 45% reported that using marijuana for their insomnia was helpful. And in the study as a whole, no serious side effects were reported.5
In a study done with 128 people over the age of 50 who were suffering from chronic pain, researchers found that the subjects had fewer problems with waking up in the night (maintenance) compared with the non-cannabis users.6
Studies of CBD and insomnia
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of many cannabinoids found in marijuana, and one that is non-psychoactive. While some studies focus on using THC by itself or whole-plant medical marijuana, others focus on studying the effects of CBD alone.
In one such study done with adults suffering from insomnia due to anxiety, researchers found that sleep scores improved in 48 out of 72 patients.7 In another, informal study, people with insomnia who used CBD flower that was smoked or vaped reported significant improvements in their insomnia.8
Cannabinol (CBN) is a cannabinoid that occurs naturally as the marijuana plant ages and the THCa slowly converts to CBN. CBN can also be produced from extracted THC. Whether CBN is psychoactive is still being debated, although some research has shown that this cannabinoid can be mildly psychoactive. Research in mice has shown that, when coupled with THC, CBN’s effects on insomnia are more potent than with THC alone. But CBN’s ability to promote sleep has just begun, and much more research is needed.
Some who use marijuana for sleep insist that letting their cannabis age so that the THC can be converted to CBN results in a product that does wonders for their insomnia. But according to some scientists, including leading cannabis researcher and neurologist Dr. Ethan Russo, the reason this happens isn’t the CBN in and of itself, but that the aged, high-CBN cannabis is also high in sedating terpenes. It is these terpenes that may be causing the sedative effects.
Before you experiment with marijuana for your insomnia, it would be helpful to find a healthcare practitioner with experience in this area. Generally speaking, strains with indica genetics are better for aiding sleep, while the sativa varieties produce a head high that could discourage sleep. Then there are hybrids that may have either effect. Many scientists now think that these effects may have more to do with the terpene profile than the strain; either way, this can be confusing for the newcomer and so it’s best to be guided by a professional.
In addition, be sure and check the medical marijuana laws in your state, especially since they are changing rapidly throughout the US. Use our interactive map to help you get started.
- Sleep Order Statistics. American Sleep Association.
- What Is Insomnia. Sleep Foundation.
- Insomnia. WebMD.
- Study Shows American Adults are Consuming Cannabis and Hemp Products to Replace Prescriptions
- Webb CW, Webb SM. Therapeutic benefits of cannabis: a patient survey. Hawaii J Med Public Health. 2014;73(4):109‐111.
- Sznitman SR, Vulfsons S, Meiri D, et alMedical cannabis and insomnia in older adults with chronic pain: a cross-sectional studyBMJ Supportive & Palliative Care Published Online First: 20 January 2020. doi: 10.1136/bmjspcare-2019-001938
- Shannon S, Lewis N, Lee H, Hughes S. Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series. Perm J. 2019;23:18‐041. doi:10.7812/TPP/18-041
- Vigil JM, Stith SS, Diviant JP, Brockelman F, Keeling K, Hall B. Effectiveness of Raw, Natural Medical Cannabis Flower for Treating Insomnia under Naturalistic Conditions. Medicines (Basel). 2018;5(3):75. Published 2018 Jul 11. doi:10.3390/medicines5030075