Updated on January 21, 2020.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Have you ever had marijuana and fallen straight to sleep? It’s an experience we’ve probably all had, but what does it mean? Is marijuana a good sleep aid? The answer to this questions is more complicated than you might think.
What is REM Sleep?
REM sleep is the deep kind of sleep where you dream. Any other type of sleep is lighter and easier to wake from. During this stage of deep sleep, your body repairs and regrows tissues, strengthens the immune system and builds bone and muscle.
If you aren’t dreaming at night, you might be missing out on REM sleep. And if you’ve ever felt disoriented when you’ve been woken up, it’s probably because you were in a deep state of REM sleep.
People have been taking marijuana to help with sleep troubles for years, but there are a few things you should know before you try it.
If you think you already know the impact of marijuana on REM sleep, you might be surprised.
The Difference Between THC and CBD
To understand how marijuana affects sleep, we have to talk about the differences in various strains. Some have more THC and others have more CBD.
For the casual pot smoker, this equates to some strains getting you higher than others. Regardless of your relationship with marijuana, you’ve probably noticed this.
THC and CBD are both chemical compounds found in marijuana. They are among 113 different chemical compounds, but they are the two that seem to have the biggest effect.
THC stands for Tetrahydrocannabinol, and it’s the most psychoactive compound you’ll find in marijuana. When you consume marijuana in any form, you introduce cannabinoids into your system. These cannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
The main difference between THC and CBD is that CBD is not psychoactive. Another difference to note is that CBD is legal in almost every state. CBD can also come from hemp plants in addition to marijuana plants.
Marijuana’s Effect on Sleep
You may already know that there are many strains of marijuana that have different effects on the body.
The strains that would get you high have more THC and less CBD. These strains are the most common, and not just because of the high. In fact, most sleep studies have been done on high THC strains.
One study that was done on CBD strains found that the marijuana increased alertness during the day without having any effect on sleep at night. So the CBD strains may be good to help with alertness without detracting from the ever-important REM sleep.
If you’re sleepy, a friend may recommend trying an Indica strain of marijuana. Although this advice is somewhat anecdotal, most people do find that Indica strains of pot will make them sleepier than sativa strains.
Still, its effect on REM sleep isn’t great. Marijuana may help you drift off to sleep, but you may never get to that coveted dreamland. A study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews found that marijuana reduces the likelihood of REM sleep.
The ultimate goal of sleep is to recharge, and in order to really recharge, you’ll need to get to that deep REM sleep. Some strains of marijuana may help you fall asleep, but you’re likely to remain in a light state of sleep throughout the night.
If you’re thinking of trying marijuana to help combat insomnia, understand that it will only help to a point. Getting light sleep is better than getting no sleep, so it’s not a terrible choice. But it’s probably best if you use marijuana as a short-term solution for sleep troubles. It’s a safer alternative than addictive sleep aids for certain.
Naturally, everybody is different. So if you find that you’re having awesome dreams and waking up feeling well-rested after consuming marijuana, then it may be right for you. Sleep is very important to us all, so it’s crucial that we find something that works.