Cannabis as a Sleep Aid – What can the Harm Be?
With a number of jurisdictions legalizing marijuana, there is interest and anecdotal information about its properties as a sleep aid. This notion is not new but where and how do we separate myth and fact? Is it effective? Is it natural? Is it healthy? Here is the bottom line: while there are benefits for some users, marijuana can be detrimental for your sleep health in the long term
Fall Asleep Fast but what about the Rest of the Night?
Of course, we would not be discussing the worth of marijuana as a sleep aid if it did not possess some helpful qualities. Tetrahydrocannabino, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana that gives the high effect tends to decrease sleep latency in individuals. This means the time it takes to fall asleep is reduced, lending credence to the notion of marijuana as a known sleep-inducing drug. However, there is no such thing as a free lunch: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is impaired when one is under the influence of THC. This means that the sleep phase responsible for deeper sleep and dreaming is fractured.
Lost REM Sleep
Alcohol produces a similar effect in those who use it around bedtime. REM sleep is imperative for feeling rested and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule. While the function of dreams are still uncertain from an empirical standpoint, there is a reason for them nonetheless and health consequences if lost. Those who ingest marijuana for sleep will find that their dreams are rare or missing altogether. This is a result of missing important sleep cycles. Yes you fall asleep but you are not cycling through the full five stages of sleep that are important for overall health and functioning and lead to that rested feeling.
Importance of REM Sleep
Lacking in REM sleep is hazardous for memory recall and learning, especially in a long-term context. It is not recommended that one loses out on it for many nights at a time. However, there are some populations who may benefit from the double-edged sword of fractured sleep. Those who suffer from PTSD are plagued by nightmares and traumatic flashbacks in the night. Anyone who has tried interventions to stop these and come up unsuccessful may find the effect that marijuana has on our dreams alluring. This is not to say that it is a healthy intervention by any measure but contributes to the lore that marijuana helps remove worries, aid in relaxation and sleep for those who may have reason to fear.
Healthy Lungs are Especially Important
The best sleep is natural sleep. This means loss of a sleep cycle as important as REM can never be healthy. This brings us to the physical health standpoint: consuming marijuana through combustion is hazardous to the lungs and has been known to irritate the respiratory system. Further research is being conducted on the consequences of consuming marijuana smoke, although it can be inferred that inhaling an irritant isn’t the healthiest activity one could partake in. This is especially true for individuals who experience asthmatic symptoms.
Stay Safe and Legal
If you consume THC for sleep or recreation, do so in a country or state that has officially legalized the drug as well as research all of the consumption methods to find the safest one for you. Always bear in mind the long-term repercussions of sleep aids that interfere with natural sleep cycles. There are also cardiovascular concerns with the consumption of marijuana so at-risk individuals should do their research before making such a decision.
Physical and Psychological Addiction
Lastly, one should be aware of the withdrawal symptoms that come with marijuana. It can be difficult to fall asleep without such a strong sleep-inducing drug after frequent use. The body becomes dependent on the lower sleep-latency and it may take some time to be able to fall asleep naturally after stopping. Despite what you may have heard, it is possible to become addicted to marijuana both physically and psychologically. Potency amounts also fluctuate widely. For something that has the mythology of being natural and fun, it is important to recognize that it is not benign and must be evaluated rationally.
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