Sleep issues are one of the most common reasons why patients seek advice from their medical practitioners these days. Insomnia and other sleep problems are the third most common medical complaint for which people are looking to cannabis to treat. Let’s check out some of the latest research that shows the potential for cannabis varieties (THC and CBD) to help those suffering from sleep apnea get the relief that they’ve been looking for.
How Sleep Apnea Affects Your Daily Life
One of the most disruptive sleep problems that plagues more than 25 million adults in the U.S. currently is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a breathing disorder that occurs when the back of the throat relaxes during sleep, blocking off the airway. This causes gasping, choking, and oxygen deprivation to the brain, preventing the subject from ever reaching a deep sleep and resulting in serious long-term health consequences such as stroke, cancer, and even death in some cases.
Many Americans resort to sleeping with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine which increases the air pressure in your throat to prevent your airway from collapsing when you inhale while asleep. Wearing a CPAP machine can be a major buzzkill in the bedroom as it requires an outlet to function which can be cumbersome if you find yourself traveling overseas.
What Cannabis Can Do To Your Sleep Cycle On Its Own
The primary active compounds in cannabis (THC and CBD) have completely different effects on sleep. Since the cannabis plant has nearly infinite number of variations with different levels of THC and CBD, it can make it difficult to pinpoint which strains are best to combat sleep apnea problems. Since cannabis can help relax the muscles, many patients find that their sleep quality improves if they use cannabis before bed. Others find that it can calm their nerves, keeping them from having to count sheep until the wee hours of the morning just to doze off.
According to a 2008 study, ingesting marijuana strains with higher levels of THC typically reduces the amount of REM sleep you get. A reduction in REM sleep ultimately means that you’re limiting your ability to dream which could help you reduce your nightmares, but also may limit your ability to get into a “deep sleep” stage of your sleep cycle. Since the deep sleep state is meant to help your body restore itself and help you improve your cognitive and immune, higher THC levels could impair your sleep quality if taken long term. This is why it’s always best to microdose with different strains before bed and use a sleep tracker such as a FitBit, Apple Watch, etc. to help you track which strain and dosage works best for your body.
What’s the Verdict on Cannabis Treating Sleep Apnea?
Although sleep apnea is becoming more prevalent as a byproduct of the global obesity epidemic, the number of cannabis specific human studies have been few and far between. A 2002 study by the University of Illinois found that medical grade THC and oleamide improved breathing patterns in rats with the condition in all stages of sleep with apnea episodes decreasing between 42 to 58 percent. Researchers found that when they gave the rats higher dosages, they saw even more improvement than lower dosages.
Even though human anatomy is far different from rats in most ways, sleep researchers have found that rats have similar sleep cycles compared to humans. So really, this rat research is closer to the truth when it comes to alleviating sleep apnea than some researchers may be prepared to admit.