A world-first trial will be conducted by researchers at the University of Western Australia to see if cannabis can help people with chronic insomnia sleep.
One in every three Australians is said to have trouble getting good sleep. And according to lead researcher Peter Eastwood, insomnia costs the country more than A$66 billion each year as it results to other health problems and lost productivity.
Researchers believe that cannabis brings about a sedating effect, which makes it a potentially effective alternative treatment for insomnia.
Current treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy and prescription medication like benzodiazepine. The problem with cognitive behavioral therapy is that, while it is effective, it is very costly and time-consuming. The psychiatric drug benzodiazepine, on the other hand, is addictive and comes with a number of side effects.
So, how will the trial be carried out?
The randomized study will involve a group composed of 24 adults between 25 to 70 years old who have complained about having difficulties sleeping for at least three months.
The participants will use either an oil with cannabis or a placebo (an oil without cannabis) for two weeks, take one week off, then cross over and use either placebo or cannabis oil for another two weeks.
Each participant will be given one drop of the oil formulation sublingually or under the tongue an hour before bedtime. The quality of the participants’ sleep at their respective homes will be measured through a wrist-based activity monitor. They will then spend three overnight sleeps at the university’s Center for Sleep Science for further tests.
Results of the trial are expected by the end of 2018.
What’s in cannabis that promotes good sleep?
If you are wondering what’s in cannabis that aids sleep when it’s supposed to create a high, know this: THC and CBD affect sleep in different ways.
Cannabis strains that are high in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and low in CBD (cannabidiol) do give you a buzz, while those that are high in CBD and low THC don’t.
A study was conducted in 2006 that investigated how CBD affects animal models in lights-on and lights-off environments. It was found that CBD increased alertness when the lights are on and there are no discernible effects when the lights are off. Thus, the researchers concluded that this non-intoxicating cannabis compound might have a potential for helping those who have excessive daytime sleepiness resulting from a lack of sleep during the night.
And while cannabis indica strains have higher concentrations of THC than CBD, popular opinion maintains that they tend to induce sleep, whereas sativa strains are more energizing and uplifting. So yes, THC, which is responsible for creating a high, also induces sleep.
Chemical and DNA testing still have to show exactly why indica strains typically help with sleep, but some people theorize that it’s got something to do with the strain’s terpene content. Terpenes are the aromatic compounds that contribute to a particular strain’s special effect fingerprint. It is believed that indicas, compared to sativa strains, may contain more of those terpenes that have relaxing and sedating effect.
On the other hand, a 2008 study has found that consuming cannabis strains with higher THC levels typically reduce the amount of REM sleep that you experience. Reduced REM sleep means less dreams, and this could mean less occurrence of nightmares, especially for people who suffer from PTSD.
The theory is that the less time you spend dreaming, the more time you spend being in a state of deep sleep, which is believed to be the most restful and the most restorative part of our sleep cycle.
It should be noted, however, that REM is essential for healthy immune and cognitive functioning. So, high THC intake may impair the quality of your sleep in the long-term.
There are studies, though, that concluded that sleep can be impaired by the regular consumption of cannabis.