People use various tricks to deal with sleep problems — some like to have a cup of chamomile tea before bed, while others count sheep or rewatch Planet Earth.
And then there are those who claim the best way to get quality Zzz's is to smoke some pot.
Managing sleep issues is indeed one if the most commonly cited reasons for the use of medical marijuana, research has shown. But while pot may help promote sleep in some insomniacs, the extent of this potential benefit and the exact mechanisms involved are not clear.
What's more, various types of marijuana may have different effects on sleep. To understand this better, in a new study, researchers look at the types of medical marijuana that people prefer to use for sleep problems like insomnia and nightmares. After recruiting 163 adults who purchased medical marijuana at a California dispensary, the researchers looked specifically at whether the people were using sativa, indica, or hybrid strains of pot. They also asked the participants if they were using pot specifically for sleep problems and whether they were taking any additional sleep medication.
Of all the people in the study, 81 said they were using marijuana for insomnia and 14 said they were using it to reduce nightmares. The researchers found that the people who used marijuana for nightmares preferred sativa strains to indica strains. But the team did not find significant differences in pot preferences between the people who were using it for insomnia.
The scientists also examined the types of pot that participants used for the content of specific cannabinoids such as THC and CBD. THC is marijuana's primary psychoactive compound and CBD (cannabidiol) is another crucial compound, known for its potential medicinal properties.
The researchers found that the people who had insomnia and those who said it typically took them more than 30 minutes to fall asleep were more likely to report using marijuana strains with significantly higher concentrations of CBD.
Those in the study who rarely took additional sleep medication (less than once a week) used marijuana with higher concentrations of THC than those who took sleep medication at least one a week, the team found.
It is important to note that the study merely examined the people's preferences, but it did not compare the objective effectiveness of the different types of marijuana for sleep-related problems. Still, there are certain things doctors and patients can watch out for while trying to evaluate and select strains for their sleep-aid properties. For instance, instead of just looking at the strain name, "it is important to look at the actual molecular structure behind that strain," said David Goldstein, the CEO of PotBotics, a marijuana tech company.
"There are currently over 1000 different types of strains of cannabis on the market," Goldstein said. "And the vast majority of them are really just marketing-level branding indicators for what that cannabis is." In other words, the name of a strain itself does not necessarily say much about its true molecular structure that is responsible for marijuana's medicinal properties.
As for what to look for in a strain's structure, "the cannabinoid that has shown the most promising attributes for sleep is CBN — cannabinol," Goldstein said.
But people should also be aware of pot's so-called entourage effect, Goldstein stressed. This effect means that the plant's beneficial properties may not necessarily be attributed to a single "silver-bullet" compound, but rather to a number of compounds working together.