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Negative Effects of Weed: How Cannabis Impacts Sleep

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We all know how it feels to wake up after an unrefreshing night of sleep. Practicing proper sleep hygiene is essential for good health, well-being and quality of life. You might already know the basics of good sleep hygiene, such as limiting screen time before bed, using your bed only for sleep and sex, ensuring that your sleep environment is dark and sticking to the same sleep schedule during the week as well as on weekends, but despite your best efforts, you might still have trouble sleeping. 

You may have heard different reports about the effects of marijuana on sleep, and it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. Indeed, research has shown conflicting results. For example, one recent clinical review reports that one of cannabis’s active ingredients, cannabidiol (CBD) may have a positive effect on sleep, especially among people with REM sleep behavior disorder (a disorder that causes you to physically act out your dreams and nightmares). This review also found that other active ingredients, such as delta‑9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) might help you fall asleep faster but decrease sleep quality in the long-term. Although the jury’s still out on the exact effects of weed on sleep, some clinical evidence shows that marijuana may negatively affect sleep.

Cannabis and REM Sleep: What Are the Effects of Weed?

REM, or rapid eye movement, is the stage of sleep when dreaming occurs. It helps your body and brain feel energized and restored — research has shown that REM sleep is important for memory consolidation, meaning the transfer of newly-acquired information to long-term memory. REM sleep makes up about 25 percent of your overall sleep cycle and occurs around 70 to 90 minutes after you fall asleep. 

How can cannabis affect REM sleep? People who use marijuana regularly or heavily sometimes report that they do not dream or are unable to remember their dreams. Experts believe dreaming is important because it helps you consolidate and process the events of the day. Cannabis can disrupt and decrease the amount of time you spend in REM sleep, which can affect your memory and negatively affect feelings of well-being and mood. (But for people with REM sleep disorder, it can be beneficial for reducing symptoms).

Some people may even experience a cannabis hangover, although this is largely said to occur in heavy users. 

The Cannabis Hangover: Fact or Fiction? 

The cannabis hangover is said to cause symptoms such as dry mouth, fatigue, brain fog, headache, nausea or dry eyes. These seem to occur mainly due to overuse. Most of the evidence of cannabis hangovers is anecdotal; however, a few small studies have investigated the potential for marijuana to cause a hangover. 

One small study from 1985 found that marijuana users can experience a residual hangover” the morning after, but the exact effects were not defined. Another study from 2006 found that cannabis users may experience a weed hangover that can have a negative impact on cognitive performance — these effects are believed to increase with prolonged use. However, a study published in 1998 examined the residual effects of marijuana use and found no significant subjective or physiological changes the day after use.

Negative Effects of Marijuana on Sleep: A Lack of Clear Evidence

Heavy users of marijuana who suddenly stop using may experience withdrawal symptoms which can negatively affect sleep. But for most people who use marijuana recreationally, clinical evidence is unclear as to whether marijuana will cause a detrimental impact on sleep. One recent study found that occasional marijuana use does not disrupt sleep, but chronic use can cause sleep difficulties. 

If you have a sleep disorder (such as insomnia), you might be tempted to use marijuana for sleep. However, a sleep specialist at the 2018 meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies said that physicians should be cautious about prescribing medical marijuana to treat sleep disorders.” Although the organization admits that clinical evidence is mixed as to the exact impact of marijuana on sleep, the consensus is that most sleep difficulties seem to occur with chronic marijuana use, which can cause a self-perpetuating negative cycle that causes chronic users to progressively increase their intake, furthering sleep disruption.” 

If you can manage, it’s probably best to avoid any type of sleep aid and allow your body to find its own natural rhythm, but the occasional joint probably won’t cause much harm if you keep it in check.

Stacy Mosel, LMSW is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and musician. She received a bachelor’s degree in Music from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1999 and a Master of Social Work from New York University in 2002. She has had extensive training in child and family therapy and the identification and treatment of substance abuse and mental health disorders.

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