Sleep issues can be a real torture—when you experience a lack of rest your body and, more importantly, your mind is unable to function normally. This can have devastating effects on your general well being.
Before we explain how cannabis can be beneficial for alleviating insomnia, we’ll discuss insomnia in general and outline some of the main causes of sleeplessness.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia (otherwise known as sleeplessness) is a sleep disorder defined by either having difficulty falling asleep or difficulty remaining asleep.
The aftermath of insomnia usually includes daytime drowsiness, depressed mood, irritability, low energy levels, and a generally pessimistic and negative attitude.
The potential hazards of insomnia can include difficulties with learning and maintaining focus, and impaired motor skills which can lead to serious accidents.
Insomnia is associated with stress, chronic pain, heart disease, menopause, and can also be caused by excessive use of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.
The best way to treat insomnia without resorting to the use of prescription medication (which can be addictive and can have serious side effects), is to practice good sleep hygiene, which is a regular daily exercise regimen, frequent exposure to sunlight, and a consistent bedtime and wake up routine.
The state of your bedroom is also very important, it should be clean and well aired out, quiet and dark.
Insomnia usually affects the elderly more than young people, but over the last decade, increasing numbers of young people are being afflicted. Studies also suggest that women are more likely to experience insomnia, as a result of their sleep cycle running earlier than men’s.
There are several different types of insomnia.
Sleep-onset insomnia is manifested by being unable to fall asleep at the beginning of the night’s rest and is closely associated with anxiety-related disorders.
Maintenance insomnia is the inability to remain asleep. People who suffer from this type usually don’t have problems with sleep-onset, but once they fall asleep, they wake up very easily and have a very hard time falling back to sleep.
Acute insomnia is a brief episode of sleeplessness, usually caused by a dramatic event, either positive or negative. There is usually no need to treat acute insomnia since it generally resolves by itself.
Chronic insomnia, on the other hand, is a long-term disorder, doctors usually categorize chronic insomnia as having issues sleeping at least three nights per week, over at least a three-month period.
And lastly, co-morbid insomnia is when your sleeplessness is linked with another condition, such as depression or anxiety, which are both known to cause problems with sleep. Chronic pain is also closely connected with insomnia, chronic pain sufferers are often unable to completely relax and fall asleep because of the pain they’re experiencing.
Here’s how to properly use marijuana for insomnia
Marijuana can be used to battle insomnia. But it’s important to choose the right variety of cannabis and to consume the right amount at the right time.
Science behind the deep sleep of cannabis
There are four main phases of sleep, which include:
- The half-awake stage (first 10 minutes of sleep)
- The light sleep stage (heart rate slows down, body temperature drops)
- The deep sleep stage (35-45 minutes after falling asleep, it’s the most important part of our sleep, where real rest happens and the body creates the energy for the following day)
- The REM (rapid eye movement) stage (dreams start occurring, usually happens after 90 minutes of deep sleep)
When we are under the influence of cannabis (THC to be more exact), research has shown that we fall asleep more quickly, which lets us spend more time in the third phase of sleep. This increases regeneration and heightens energy levels during the following day.
That extra time spent in the third sleep phase also diminishes the duration of the REM stage and because of this many of us have the impression that we don’t dream when we’re high.
Which type of pot should be used
For insomnia, all you need to know is that indica flowers are the way to go, as they have the strongest sedative qualities.
Indica flowers tend to have a really dark-green shade, unlike the sativa strains, which are vibrantly light-green.
The bud structures of the two subspecies are also quite different, the indica flowers have a condensed and firm bud form, while sativa flowers are looser with a string-like appearance.
Smoking indica-dominant hybrids is also an option, but pure indicas are definitely the best possible solution for insomnia because the balance between cannabinoids and terpenes in indica varieties offer the greatest relaxation and serenity.
When to smoke (or vape)
Aside from choosing the correct strain, it’s also very important to perfect the timing of cannabis ingestion to get the best results. Quantity is the third crucial factor, but we’ll get to that a bit later on.
I suggest that you smoke a medium-sized joint anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes before the time you want to fall asleep.
Vaping is also a good choice (if you find a good vaporizer like Pax 3 for example), but you should definitely steer away from edibles if you’re consuming cannabis for insomnia because the duration and intensity of the high caused by edibles are just too great for this specific need.
The reason why you should wait an hour or an hour and a half between the smoking/vaping session and going to sleep is that you need to give your mind some time to overcome the psychoactive sensations of THC.
For instance, if you go right to bed after smoking, your brain will be running like crazy, even though your body is pleasantly calmed and relaxed. This is because THC causes the breaks between the firing of neurons to become practically non-existent, and because of this we get the impression that we’re thinking very fast, and in fact we really are.
If you want to find out more on this subject, and several other canna-related phenomena head to the article on the connection of cannabis and creativity.
Besides the quickness-of-the-mind effect, indica will also produce a powerful couch-lock feeling, which can be described as a very sedated bodily sensation, extremely suitable for the slumber you’re trying to induce.
The trick is to wait for your body to “spend” all the THC, and just slip into sleep while the “couch lock” is still happening.
Personally, I can have real difficulty moving from the couch to my bed, let alone going to brush my teeth and floss, that is how sedating a good indica can be.
The Promise of Cannabinol (CBN)
Cannabinol (CBN) is one of the cannabinoid compounds unique to cannabis and is a minor constituent of practically all Indica strains.
Just like CBD, CBN doesn’t produce the potent mind-altering effects of THC, but it offers numerous health benefits including anti-insomnia, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, pain diminishment and also acts as an appetite stimulant.
Cannabinol is found in very minuscule amounts in every strain that contains it (around 1%), and to my understanding growers haven’t started experimenting to bring about more CBN in plants, nor are there any CBN extracts or oils yet.
CBN was actually the first isolated cannabinoid (long before THC and CBD), and what’s also pretty interesting about this compound is that THC turns into CBN after long exposure to air (or more precisely, oxygen).
These two cannabinoids are almost identical, except for 4 hydrogen atoms that THC molecule has, which get separated from it after prolonged exposure to air, light and heat.
THC molecules lose their hydrogen atoms over time and become CBN compounds, and because of this badly stored cannabis is far more sedative than when it’s properly kept – because THC transforms into CBN.
I do not advise you to leave your pot for long periods of time in the open, as mold or other fungi cultures can start developing on it (especially if the area is humid and warm), which is definitely not good for you.
Best cannabis strains for insomnia
I’m going to recommend some strains perfect for inducing sleep but if you’re unable to find any of these strains in your area, just stick to purebred indicas – indicas are absolutely the best choice for relaxation and sleep.
With a whopping 27% tetrahydrocannabinol, this full-blooded indica is a mixture of Hindu Kush and Purple Afghani. As one of the most popular sedative medical strains around, you can count on Purple Kush to place you in a deeply relaxed state every time. Expect a powerful couch-lock, and because of its superb pain relieving quality, this is a go-to strain for patients around the globe.
The origins of the G-13 strain are completely shrouded in secrecy, the popular theory is that the Central Intelligence Agency developed it during the ’60s. This, of course, cannot be verified, but the mystifying aura certainly helps make this heavy indica a fan-favorite. With THC ranging from 20% to 24%, you can expect a cerebral euphoria with a twist of potent sedation. Just make sure not to consume too much, start light and slowly work your way up.
Created in California by DNA Genetics, this 100% indica has a very distinct lemony flavor. THC levels are anywhere from 20% to 25%, so you can count on sedation from this strain. Besides the couch-locking, you can also expect a strong cerebral uplift, so hanging out with friends or watching a fun movie is a good option before calling it a night while high on Kosher Kush.
Another CIA-esque strain, MK Ultra was named for the infamous mind-control program conducted by the Agency during the ’50s and ’60s, and with a name like this, you know you can expect one hell of a buzz. The THC content can be up to 23%, and the strain – a cross of G-13 and OG Kush – delivers supreme numbness which will make your insomnia disappear.
This strain is a cross-breed between Critical Mass and OG Kush, with THC levels that range from 20 to 25%. This indica has a wonderful lemony-pine flavor and offers a serene therapeutic tranquility perfect for insomnia, but also for diminishing stress and anxiety issues.
Even though it has a cringe-worthy name, you can expect a lot from this strain. Created in California during the 1990s from Grandaddy Purple and OG Kush, its THC levels range anywhere from 18% to 25%, and it is truly another fabulous sedative specimen. You can also expect some munchies from this one, just don’t eat too much sugar, because that might keep you awake.
As one of the most popular indicas around, Grandaddy Purple owes its lineage to the also-famed Purple Urkle and Big Bud strains. The THC content can be as high as 23%, so be sure to expect a powerful kick. The flavor of this strain really makes it a well-rounded product, with some delicious sweet and fruity notes that your taste buds will appreciate.