Replacing Sleep Medicine with Medical Marijuana
Posted by Marijuana Doctors on 11/24/2017 in Medical Marijuana
Updated on December 21, 2017. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Sleep is a crucial part of daily life. If we don’t get good sleep, we can’t function at our best — not to mention how much harder it makes waking up in the morning.
But, many of us find sleep elusive. So, more than 8.5 million people in the United States use prescription sleep medication. Those who don’t use prescription medications try supplements and over-the-counter drugs.
However, a good night’s sleep isn’t as simple as taking a pill. Prescription medications don’t work well for everyone, and they often come with incredibly inconvenient side effects. Even supplements and over-the-counter treatments come with side effects — if they work well at all.
Because of these complications, more and more patients turn to cannabis medicine to promote sleep. Find out how you can replace your sleep drugs with natural relief.
About Sleep Medication
The pharmaceutical industry gives patients multiple options for sleep medicine. It comes in multiple categories, such as:
- Benzodiazepines: Drugs that bind to a certain part of the GABA receptor, or the neurotransmitter that calms brain activity, fall in the benzodiazepine category. Examples include lorazepam, diazepam and temazepam. They can result in withdrawal and dependency and can cause cognitive impairment when you wake.
- Z-Drugs: These medications bind to the GABA receptor as well, but they bind to a different part than benzodiazepines do. You may know them as medications like zolpidem (Ambien) and eszopiclone (Lunesta). While they tend to make patients feel less sleepy during the day than benzodiazepines do, they cause some patients to eat or even drive during sleep.
- Orexin Antagonists: The only orexin antagonist developed so far is suvorexant, a recently created sleep medication. Instead of binding to the GABA receptor, it tries to simulate the effects of narcolepsy by blocking orexin, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel awake. So far, clinical trial participants have observed intense dreams and hallucinations at the beginning of the sleep cycle.
- Melatonin Agonists: Your brain produces melatonin to signal bedtime, and melatonin agonists enhance that effect. You can get melatonin itself as a supplement or use the prescription medications ramelteon or tasimelteon. They usually don’t help people with chronic sleep issues and suit patients who often switch sleep schedules.
- Antihistamines: We usually use antihistamines like Benadryl to relieve allergies and reduce cold symptoms, but some patients also use them to promote sleep. In addition to their standard purpose, antihistamines block acetylcholine, a transmitter that makes you feel alert. They often cause you to feel groggy in the morning and lose effectiveness after repeated use.
You may have tried many kinds of sleep medications, or you may have tried none at all. Regardless of what you’ve used in the past, medical marijuana could work for you.
Sleep Medication and Addiction
When over-the-counter sleep aids don’t do the trick, patients have to try prescription medications. But, two commonly prescribed types of sleep medications, benzodiazepines and Z-drugs can cause dependency and addiction. Patients who get addicted to sleep meds not only deal with withdrawal symptoms, but they also have to take more of the drug to get the same effect.
Sleeping pill withdrawal symptoms are nothing to sneeze at, so it’s no wonder people who experience them feel like they must keep on using the medication. They can deal with issues like:
- Seizures and spasms
- Mood issues like depression and anxiety
- Delirium and hallucinations
- Increased heart rate
- Nausea and vomiting
- Cravings for the sleep medication
Since sleep drugs depress your nervous system, they can cause serious consequences when someone overdoses on them. Sometimes symptoms like drowsiness and sleep apnea increase, putting you at risk of injury or death. A lethal overdose of pills that affect GABA receptors completely blocks the receptors, causing you to stop breathing.
Can You Replace Sleep Drugs With Medical Marijuana?
Many medical marijuana patients report improved sleep, even when they don’t take cannabis specifically for sleep problems. Not only does it directly handle sleep symptoms, but it also treats a wide variety of underlying causes of sleep disturbances. Common reasons for sleep problems that cannabis can treat include:
- Sleep disorders
- Sleep apnea
- Chronic pain
- Restless leg syndrome
- Anxiety disorders
- Major depression
As you can see, marijuana can take care of many symptoms at once. So, if you deal with other health issues in addition to your sleep problems, you can use cannabis to treat them as well.
How the Chemical Makeup of Weed Contributes to Sleep
Two of the chemicals in marijuana, or cannabinoids, can especially help you fall asleep. Cannabinol, or CBN, provides the most sedative properties. However, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, can also promote rest as long as you monitor its impact on anxiety symptoms.
Indica strains are known for their ability to help cannabis patients get a good night’s rest. While the other primary type of marijuana strain, sativa, provides an uplifting and energetic feeling, indica strains produce a relaxing and sedating effect. Patients who find a 100% indica strain sedates them too much can even choose a hybrid that balances out the two strains’ effects.
If you stick to marijuana that helps with sleep instead of energy, you can use it to treat your insomnia in many ways. Depending where you live, you can have access to medicine like pure marijuana bud, cannabinoid capsules or edibles. While sleep medication usually comes in tablet or capsule form, you can adjust your medicine to fit your lifestyle.
Interactions Between Sleep Medications and Marijuana
Not all patients completely substitute their sleeping pills for medical weed. Some use it in conjunction with a less intense medication so they can get the effect they need. But, if you decide to use a sleeping medication and medical marijuana together, the common side effects between the two drugs — such as drowsiness — will increase.
Medicating With Cannabis Safely and Smartly
Like when you take any new medication, you should talk with your primary care provider about medical marijuana. If your doctor won’t or can’t help you, there are licensed marijuana doctors out there who are happy to help. With a few clicks, we can help you find a practice in your area and schedule an appointment.