Marijuana has a variety of medical uses, although opinions vary on how effective they are and whether it should even be legal. Probably the best-known medicinal use is for the treatment of glaucoma, but people also use cannabis to treat nausea and pain. Now, researchers are asking whether it might be helpful as a sleep aid.
There’s some evidence that marijuana might help with sleep dating back to the 1970s, but there haven’t been many high-quality studies because of the illegality of the drug. Most medical research has focused on one component of marijuana called cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive compound (meaning it doesn’t induce a high on its own) in marijuana. One study from 2011 examined the effects of cannabis on two groups of people, one that experienced sleep problems and one that did not. The use of cannabis improved sleep for both groups, but the effects were far more noticeable in the people with difficulty sleeping, with 79 percent reporting increased sleep quality. 21 percent also reported a decrease in dreaming, which might have some benefit to people whose sleep suffers as a result of PTSD and other anxiety-induced nightmares.
Another study in 2014 focused specifically on the use of cannabidiol for sleep disrupted by PTSD and anxiety. It found high rates of cannabis use among people with PTSD, most of whom were motivated by the desire to sleep better. The authors cautioned, however, that it was unknown whether the high rate of cannabis use among people with PTSD was associated with any adverse health effects. Right now, the only thing that researchers really agree on is that more investigation is needed.
Research remains limited and inconclusive. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that cannabis can help with sleep, but scientific evidence is lacking. Marijuana does have side effects – increased heart rate, nausea and vomiting, and the potential for addiction with long-term use – and those would have to be weighed against any possible benefits.
Although some U.S. states have passed laws allowing the use of medical marijuana, the Food and Drug Administration has declined the approval of marijuana for any medical use. The farthest the FDA has gone is allowing the use of one particular drug that contains cannabidiol for the treatment of seizures associated with two conditions called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Part of the problem is that before a medicine can be approved by the FDA, it has to undergo clinical trials. Despite being legal in many states, marijuana is still classified by the DEA as a Schedule I controlled substance, and no labs or universities that receive federal funding can conduct studies on it.
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