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Sleep is an essential part of human existence. It allows the body and mind to recharge at night and to be fully awake and refreshed for the hurdles of the next day. Adults require seven to nine hours of nightly sleep while teenagers and children need more sleeping hours to support their growing bodies. Without proper sleep, our body’s health could fluctuate. 

Australia’s sleeping problems  

While sleep is an important health factor, Australians rarely consult with their doctors about their sleep problems. More than half of the Australian adult population have at least one chronic sleep symptom, such as trouble falling or staying asleep. At the same time, 14.8% suffer from symptoms of clinical insomnia.   

 Sleeping problems were almost present across all demographics, but some sleeping problems are more prevalent in a certain age range. For example, older individuals were more likely to sustain sleep, waking up too early in the morning or overnight. At the same time, young people tend to suffer from the difficulty of falling asleep.  

 There were also some gender differences in terms of sleeping problems. Female respondents were more likely to worry about not getting enough sleep or are being overwhelmed by anxious thoughts before sleeping than the male gender. [1] 

Insomnia and other sleeping disorders 

Insomnia is a common sleeping disorder characterised by the difficulty of falling asleep and getting enough sleep of seven hours or more. Often, the cause of insomnia is a person’s discomfort from an illness. For example, a toothache makes it extra hard for the person to fall asleep. The ache can sometimes jolt them from their sleep-in early hours of the morning. In other cases, insomnia is caused by psychiatric conditions, acquired poor sleeping habits, unhealthy lifestyle, and substance abuse.    

 The less common sleeping disorders include:  

  •  Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This sleeping disorder is characterised by losing the ability to breathe freely while sleeping. People with sleep apnea often snore in their sleep too. Breathing goes back to normal when a person is roused.
  • Sleep Hypoventilation: This sleeping disorder is when a person’s breathing muscles are too weak to fully function or when they have a lung disorder that makes them unable to fully breathe during sleep. There is currently no treatment for this.  
  • Restless Legs Syndrome: People with restless legs syndrome suffer from the uncomfortable feeling in their legs when sleeping. They usually have to move their legs to shake their uncomfortableness.
  • Bruxism: Bruxism is characterised by the grinding of the teeth during sleep without the person knowing it. The regular grinding of the teeth could lead to dental and sometimes, jaw problems. 
  • Narcolepsy: It is an uncommon disorder that refers to switching between being awake and asleep. Narcolepsy makes people more sleepy than usual, but their sleep can have some disruptions too. Even rarer, narcolepsy triggers the development of hallucinations during sleep. 
  • Sleep talking/walking: Sleep talking/walking is a rare occurrence but is something that is not impossible to happen. Sleep talking and walking sometimes happen when a person is partially awake. 

Can medical cannabis help with sleeping disorders such as insomnia? 

The therapeutic effect of medical cannabis for sleeping problems, for a long time, has spurred interest from the medical world. The sole reliance on melatonin and sedatives such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates risks drug dependence and withdrawal symptoms. With that said, it’s high time for exploration on newer and safer solutions.   

Cannabis has two primary cannabinoids prized for its potential in aiding sleep. These phytocompounds are CBD (Cannabidiol) and THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). CBD and THC are known for their number of therapeutic benefits, but unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive.   

Although this is still a topic for debate until now, the sedative effect of cannabis through its cannabinoids is believed to be an alternative solution for aiding sleep. This was the foreground adapted by the researchers from The University of Western Australia (UWA) who showed medical cannabis as the possible novel treatment for adults with chronic insomnia.   

Through a randomised approach, 23 patients with chronic insomnia, for 14 nights were administered with the cannabis formulation and after a week, was treated with placebo with the same number of days.   

The reports showed that the cannabis formulation was able to significantly improve the patients’ conditions compared to the placebo phase based on the Insomnia Severity Index (ISI).   

For context, ISI is an instrument that measures the severity of nighttime and daytime components of insomnia. In average, all participants experienced an ISI decrease of 26 per cent while those on under high cannabis formulation were relieved in ISI of almost 36 per cent reduction.    [2] 

 In a 2018 study, the paper concluded saying that cannabis consumption “is associated with significant improvements in perceived insomnia with differential effectiveness and side effect profiles, depending on the product characteristics.”  

The study sourced their data from a survey involving 409 people with insomnia. The survey was organised via an app that records in real-time, the ratings of insomnia severity before and after cannabis consumption. The results show that, on average, there has been a 4.5 point reduction on the severity scale of 0-10 upon cannabis consumption. Additionally, the use of vaporiser and increased CBD content was reported to have greater relief from the symptoms of insomnia.  [3] 

 In another 2019 review focusing on the potential of cannabis treating PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), researchers discovered that cannabis could potentially reduce PTSD-related symptoms such as nightmares and insomnia [4]. 

 Finally, in a 2008 study on the effects of recreational drugs on sleep, researchers found out that cannabis smoking and the oral administration of THC can reduce the REM (rapid eye movement) stage in sleep but lengthens the time on the stage 4 of sleep which is the deepest stage of sleep.   

 Moreover, the study also pointed out that the acute administration of cannabis can trigger the act of falling asleep. Still, researchers warned that REM disturbance could sometimes lead to mood instability [5]. As with any novel pursuits, further research is needed to fully comprehend the holistic effect of cannabis and its cannabinoids to adult sleep.  

 CanView does not endorse the use of Medicinal Cannabis without lawful prescription. Just like any Medicine, Medicinal Cannabis may have both positive and negative side-effects on the user,and should only be prescribed to patients by a Health Professional with the authority and expertise to do so. The information provided by CanView is for informational and educational purposes, and is of a general nature. If you are interested in accessing Medicinal Cannabis please talk to your doctor and request a referral to a Medicinal Cannabis clinic. 

 Endnotes: 

 1. Sleep Health Foundation. 2019. Chronic Insomnia Disorder in Australia. Available at: https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/news/special-reports/chronic-insomnia-disorder-in-australia.html 

 2. The University of Western Australia Centre for Sleep Science. 2020. Cannabis proven to help insomniacs sleep. Available at: https://www.news.uwa.edu.au/2020040711981/research/cannabis-proven-help-insomniacs-sleep 

 3.Vigil, J. et al. 2018. Effectiveness of Raw, Natural Medical Cannabis Flower for Treating Insomnia under Naturalistic Conditions. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6164964/#__ffn_sectitle 

 4. C. Hindocha. 2019.The Effectiveness of Cannabinoids in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A Systematic Review. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15504263.2019.1652380?journalCode=wjdd20 

 5. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18313952/