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The Relationship Between Cannabis and Insomnia

Over 20 million people use marijuana every month for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s a recreational drug while others seek out its many medical benefits. Currently, marijuana (or cannabis), is illegal to consume without a medical prescription card. However, products containing CBD are growing in popularity and are now legal in many states.

So, what are the major differences between cannabis and CBD? Why is one legal and the other not? And what does all of this have to do with treating insomnia? Keep reading to discover the answer to these questions and much more!

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What is Cannabis?

Cannabis goes by many names with weed, pot, and marijuana topping the list. Regardless of what you call it, cannabis refers to 3 specific plants that have psychoactive properties. These plants are:

  • Cannabis indica
  • Cannabis sativa
  • Cannabis ruderalis

The flowers of these plants are harvested and then dried to make cannabis. As it stands, marijuana is one of the most commonly used drugs in the world. While most people associate smoking weed with getting high and having the munchies, this plant also offers a wide range of medical benefits. This is one reason why the use of medical marijuana is surging in popularity.

Most people use cannabis for its calming benefits, but research shows it can also help ease symptoms of countless medical ailments including, but not limited to:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • PTSD
  • Eating disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic pain (arthritis)
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Acne
  • Muscle spasms
  • Insomnia

So, how exactly can cannabis help treat these conditions? Let’s take a closer look at what components makeup cannabis and the healing benefits they offer.

The Healing Components of Cannabis

Cannabis is composed of over 100 cannabinoids, but of these, two reign supreme — and you’ve probably heard of both of them — tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol (better known as THC and CBD, respectively.

While both ingredients are equally beneficial and powerful, their effects are different.

THC

THC is the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. THC is what makes users feel “high”. Products containing THC are still illegal in most states unless you have a prescription or medical marijuana card to legally buy items containing high levels of this cannabinoid.

CBD

CBD, on the other hand, is another psychoactive component found in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, it doesn’t offer any euphoric side effects. It’s non-intoxicating and won’t make you feel “high”. CBD products let you enjoy all the benefits offered by the cannabis plant without adverse side effects. Products containing CBD are also legal in most states, as long as the THC level is below .03%. 

It’s interesting to note that CBD benefits are so far-reaching that the FDA has actually approved its use to treat certain kinds of epilepsy.

How Does Cannabis Work?

Before you can fully understand the connection between cannabis and insomnia, we must first explain how cannabis works inside your body.

Your body has a natural endocannabinoid system that helps maintain stability and balance. This system is also responsible for your mood, memory, and sleep patterns, although research is ongoing. 

The endocannabinoid system has 3 components — receptors, enzymes, and endocannabinoids. Your body is full of receptors. Endocannabinoids attach to these receptors and are then dispersed throughout your body. Enzymes come in various forms but only 2 specific types break down the endocannabinoids in your body. 

It’s this interaction between CB1 and CB2 receptors and endocannabinoids that allow cannabis products to work their magic. CB1 receptors are located in the central nervous system. They control movement, coordination, appetite, mood, and memory. CB2 receptors are found in the peripheral nervous system and are responsible for inflammation and pain.

The enzymes in your body break down cannabinoids which then bind to these 2 types of receptors. Studies show that cannabis may not attach directly to a receptor but instead, influence them in some way. By activating these receptors, the drug is then carried throughout your body, allowing its healing benefits to take hold. 

So, why does THC get you “high” and CBD doesn’t? The answer lies in their molecular structure. Both TCH and CBD have 30 hydrogen atoms, 21 carbon atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. A difference in how these atoms are arranged is what triggers a different response inside your body.

THC binds with the CB1 receptors, triggering a sense of euphoria. CBD rarely interacts with the CB1 receptors, if at all. In fact, CBD needs THC present in order to attach to CB1 receptors. This is why many CBD products contain .03% THC. These traces of THC bring with it calming benefits, while the CBD reduces the unwanted psychoactive side effects including euphoria and sedation. 

It’s this lack of psychoactive side effects that cause most people to choose CBD over THC. Not only are most CBD products legal but they offer the same healing benefits without the unwanted, sometimes unpleasant, side effects.

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CBD Products vs. THC Products

It’s already been said that both CBD and THC are used to treat many of the same conditions including pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, and insomnia. THC, however, may be more effective at treating other specific conditions including glaucoma, appetite issues, and muscle spasticity.

Cannabis products are readily available in all forms from edibles and oils to capsules and even topical creams and ointments. Before purchasing a product be sure to check the THC levels. This will make a difference between both its legality and effects. If you’re in search of healing benefits and nothing more, CBD products are the way to go. If instead, you want to experience euphoria or sedation along with the medicinal benefits, products with higher levels of THC will serve you best. Just remember, THC is an illegal substance and you’ll need a certified medical marijuana card or valid prescription to purchase these products legally.

Here are some of the most popular cannabis products available.

Edibles

A popular and tasty way to consume cannabis, edibles are available in a wide range of products. Some of the most common include gummies, brownies, chocolate, tea, and cookies. 

Oils and Tinctures

Another popular choice, THC and CBD oils are available in a variety of flavors and strengths. (More on dosage in a minute). Most oils and tinctures have an alcohol, oil, or glycerin base. You can either ingest a drop of oil beneath your tongue or add a few drops to your favorite foods and drinks. 

Capsules and Pills

If you’re comfortable with taking pills, this is an easy and convenient way to consume cannabis. Simply take these capsules the same way you would other medication or a multivitamin. Wash it down with 8 ounces of water for optimum results. 

Vape

For some people, nothing feels more natural than smoking or vaping cannabis. Consuming THC or CBD through a vaporizer or vape pen is another common practice. The extract heats up inside the pen creating a vapor that users inhale.

Lotions and Topical Creams 

THC and CBD lotions and creams are best for treating inflammation and pain since they’re applied directly to the skin. Infused with cannabis, these products are rubbed on the source of pain including the neck, back, and joints. 

It’s important to note that each of these products takes effect differently, with some users feeling the results immediately and others taking several hours to set in. Be sure to check the exact dosage of the product and understand how your body will consume and break it down.

For example, edibles and oils travel through your digestive system where they’re broken down and then dispersed throughout your body. This process takes time, with some people not feeling the effects for up to an hour. If you don’t feel the effects, wait at least 2 hours before consuming another edible to avoid any adverse side effects.

Vape enters your lungs immediately, which is why most users experience the benefits within minutes. The same can be said for creams and lotions which are absorbed through your skin and directly into your bloodstream.

The Extraction Process

While CBD and THC both come from the cannabis plant, the extraction process varies and produces different products intended for different uses.

Here’s a breakdown of the most common types of CBD vs. THC.

CBD

You may hear CBD referred to in three different ways: isolate, broad-spectrum, and full-spectrum. These terms refer to how the product is extracted and its strength. 

Isolate

Products labeled CBD isolate only contain CBD directly from the cannabis plant. That means there are 0 traces of THC or any other cannabinoids. This is the perfect product if you want to guarantee the CBD you consume doesn’t contain THC. 

Broad-Spectrum

Generally, broad-spectrum products don’t contain THC either but they do contain other cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. These include CBN, CBC, limonene, pinene, myrcene, and terpenes. Because broad-spectrum products contain other compounds, users need to be careful about side effects and interactions with other medications.

Full-Spectrum

Similar to broad-spectrum CBD products, full-spectrum contains the above-mentioned cannabinoids and also contains minimal traces of THC (usually .03% or less). 

Both broad-spectrum and full-spectrum CBD products may cause the “entourage effect” which is said to maximize their health benefits. 

THC

There are 4 distinct types of THC present in the cannabis plant: THCA, THCV, Delta-8, and Delta-9. Each has different properties and medical benefits.

THCA

THCA is present in the leaves, flowers, and stems of the cannabis plant. Unlike the other types of THC, THCA is the only one that doesn’t have any psychoactive side effects, making it the most closely related to CBD. 

THCA is said to help ease arthritis, inflammation, nausea, diabetes, and epilepsy.

THCV

THCV is a byproduct of THCA. While it does have mind-altering side effects in small doses, it’s described as a clear, stimulating high. These effects are also said to take hold rather quickly. Unlike other THC which makes you hungry, THCV is a well-known appetite suppressant. 

Other benefits include easing symptoms of anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and tremors, and brain lesions associated with Parkinson’s disease.

Delta-8 THC

Delta-8 THC is similar to Delta-9 but is the result of an oxidation process. Users will experience a mild “high” when using products containing delta-8 THC. The euphoric feeling is described as more energetic and mind-clearing rather than sedating.

Delta-8 THC is commonly used to treat anxiety and chronic pain. It’s also reported to help stimulate your appetite, decrease nausea, and vomiting, and reduce the size of tumors in some patients.

Delta-9 THC

This form of THC is the most potent and contains most of the cannabis plant’s psychoactive compounds. The concentration of effects is highest in the female cannabis plant, though they’re also present in the male plant. 

The many benefits associated with Delta-9 THC include pain relief, reduced anxiety, reduced PTSD symptoms, enhanced senses, increased appetite, and improved sleep, just to name a few.

Using Cannabis to Treat Insomnia

Now that you understand how cannabis interacts with your natural endocannabinoid system and its many different forms, let’s take a closer look at its relationship to insomnia.

What Causes Insomnia?

Before we can discuss how cannabis might help ease insomnia symptoms, it’s important to first identify the causes of this sleep disorder. While there are several different types of insomnia, unhealthy sleep patterns often stem from similar sources.

The most common causes of insomnia include:

  • Pain and discomfort
  • Stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders
  • Environmental factors (time change, noise, different sleep settings)
  • Medications
  • Lifestyle choices

Once you determine the root cause of your insomnia, you can better understand and use cannabis products to your advantage.

Cannabis and Sleep

The direct connection between cannabis and sleep patterns is ongoing but evidence suggests that while THC and CBD may not treat insomnia directly, they can help address the root cause of your sleep disturbance.

For example, if chronic pain or pain from a recent injury is keeping you up at night or making it difficult to fall asleep, cannabis can help. Studies show that THC and CBD not only ease pain symptoms but also reduces inflammation caused by chronic pain conditions like arthritis or RLS (restless leg syndrome).

The same is true of cannabis and stress. 55% of CBD users say that it helps relax and calm them, reducing both stress and anxiety. Because cannabis interacts with receptors that control mood, it can also help increase happiness and positivity, relieving feelings of depression. By reducing stress and improving your mood, some users report being able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Some cannabis users enjoy the combination of calm and euphoria offered by THC products. Others prefer to enjoy the relaxing benefits of cannabis without the psychoactive side effects and opt for CBD products instead.

When environmental factors disrupt your body’s natural sleep cycle,  cannabis may be able to help. One study of patients with Parkinson’s disease showed that CBD improved sleep patterns of those with RBD (REM sleep behavior disorder). RBD is associated with nightmares and poor sleep. Patients who used CBD reported less daytime drowsiness and less frequent nightmares.

Cannabis may also help reduce the side effects of insomnia, like daytime fatigue and grogginess. While half of the patients claim cannabis helps them feel more calm and relaxed, certain products can actually have the opposite effect — promoting alertness and boosting energy in some users.

Using Cannabis for Sleep

Now that you have a better understanding of the connection between cannabis and insomnia and how its components interact with your body, let’s discuss exactly how to implement these benefits.

Before you run out to the store and snatch up every cannabis product you see, it’s important to understand what makes most CBD products legal and why you need a medical prescription to purchase THC. Dosage is another important factor to consider before consuming any type of cannabis product. 

How to Purchase Cannabis Products Legally 

With so many cannabis products on the market, it can be difficult to know which are legal for purchase and which require a prescription. The simplest way to know is if the product contains .03% of THC or less, it will be labeled as “CBD”. You’ve likely seen countless CBD-infused products for sale online, in the mall, or at your local pharmacy. Without high levels of THC, most products containing CBD are not only legal to buy but quite effective.

If your medical condition specifically requires a product containing THC, you’ll need a prescription or a medical marijuana card allowing you to legally purchase the drug. While some marijuana users prefer the traditional method of smoking the drug, others ingest it similar to CBD using things like oils and gummies.

The way you ingest THC is your personal preference but using it legally isn’t left up to chance or personal choice. Never purchase or consume THC products illegally. If your condition requires a medical marijuana card, discuss this with a health professional. In many cases, CBD products contain all the healing benefits you need and are readily available for purchase. 

Cannabis Dosage

Knowing the different types of cannabis products and how much THC they contain is extremely important — but so is understanding and consuming the right dosage. This is especially true for beginners. 

Several things determine dosage including your age, gender, and weight. A 250-pound man will probably need a higher dosage than a 120-pound female. Older individuals may need a smaller dose than someone who is younger and more active. You also need to consider the type of ailment you’re treating and your individual body chemistry. 

Your best bet is to check with a medical professional before adding cannabis to your health regimen. Once you get the “okay” to start using THC or CBD products to treat your insomnia, start with a single dose. Most products like gummies and teas are already individually packaged and contain 5 mg. Oils usually come with a dropper and will tell you how many milligrams of CBD and THC are contained in a single drop.

Start with 5 mg if you’re unsure, although most people need at least a 10 mg dosage to experience the health benefits. In time, you can slowly increase the dosage by 5 mg. On average, regular users consume anywhere from 20 mg to 40 mg to help ease symptoms.

How and When to Take Cannabis Products for Insomnia Relief

While everyone is different and may experience different side effects, it’s recommended that you consume your product of choice approximately 60 minutes before bed to help ease insomnia symptoms. As with cannabis consumption in general, the type of ailment you’re treating will directly impact how, when, and how much you need to achieve a restful night’s sleep.

For instance, if you plan to vape cannabis to help relieve stress or use a topical cream for pain and inflammation, these can be done right before you go to bed. The effects will take hold almost immediately and can help you fall asleep faster. On the contrary, if you prefer to ingest edibles or oil and are looking to reduce anxiety, you may want to enjoy your edibles an hour before bed. This will give the product time to take effect and help you slowly relax and prepare for sleep.

Speak to Your Doctor

Anytime you incorporate a new form of medication into your daily routine, it’s best you check with a medical professional.

Remember, cannabis is not a cure for insomnia, however, it can help ease the symptoms or ailments that are keeping you up at night. If you’re currently taking other medication for a similar condition (for example, an anti-inflammatory for pain or undergoing chemotherapy), confirm that products containing cannabis won’t interfere with their effectiveness or cause an adverse reaction.

When used properly, both THC and CBD products can help treat the cause of your insomnia and help you achieve deeper, longer sleep.

Adding Cannabis to Your Insomnia Treatment Plan

Cannabis isn’t right for everyone. Taking these products to help treat insomnia is a personal decision and one you should research extensively. By itself, cannabis isn’t a proven treatment for this sleep disorder, however, research suggests it can help ease other conditions that may be disrupting your sleep.

Treating insomnia requires a multifaceted approach. There’s no one-size-fits-all remedy, which is why at Somnus Therapy, we offer a wide range of treatment options and resources to help you achieve blissful, restorative sleep.

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