Should you use marijuana to help you sleep? Maybe not if you have this common sleep disorder

With more states legalizing the use of marijuana for both recreational and medicinal purposes, the list of ailments that weed can treat keeps growing. Since weed can be a miracle drug for some people in their attempts to treat their anxiety (although not everyone reacts the same way to weed; it makes anxiety worse for some), a lot of people wonder if they should use marijuana to help them sleep. If weed can make you relax, why wouldn’t it help you sleep, right? When it comes to sleep, it might not be that simple, actually.

When states legalize weed for medicinal purposes, health officials in that state draw up a list for conditions that doctors can write a cannabis prescription for. Last fall, the Minnesota Department of Health added “sleep apnea” to their list of qualifying conditions for a medical marijuana prescription card. Sleep apnea is a very common sleeping disorder that affects over 200,000 people a year, but it can come and go with age or weight gain and other lifestyle changes, so it’s hard to pin down just how many people have it.

Some signs of a sleep apnea are super loud and disruptive snoring and not feeling well rested after sleeping, but it’s dangerous since technically the upper airway is being obstructed, and you’re either not getting enough air to breath or the airflow completely stops for short periods of time throughout the night. If you think you have a sleep apnea, you should talk to your doctor and go to a sleep specialist, because it can have lasting effects on your heart and pulmonary health.

In early April, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) issued a position statement asking states to remove obstructive sleep apnea from the list of qualifying medical conditions for weed because there’s not enough evidence that using marijuana to treat it actually works — it could potentially make sleep apnea even worse.

There has been some research that shows a synthetic cannabis extract called dronabinol improves respiratory stability and can help with sleep apnea, but it hasn’t been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration just yet. There also haven’t been any studies “of the safety and efficacy of other delivery methods such as vaping or liquid formulation.” There has been some research that shows the use of this synthetic extract combined with the use of medical cannabis can you very sleepy during the day, which can be dangerous.

Lead author of the statement, Dr. Kannan Ramar, a professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, wrote, “Until we have further evidence on the efficacy of medical cannabis for the treatment of sleep apnea, and until its safety profile is established, patients should discuss proven treatment options with a licensed medical provider at an accredited sleep facility.”

The bottom line? Talk to your doctor if you want to use weed or a synthetics for sleep and have a sleep apnea. And even if you don’t, since marijuana might not help everyone’s insomnia or sleep quality.

Weed can affect your sleep in a couple of ways. It’s not for everyone. First of all, it’s important to remember that medical marijuana and other cannabis-based products are all different. The amount of THC (which is what makes you feel “high”) and other cannabinoids will affect how you feel when you consume it, and it’s not proven to help you sleep at all.

In fact, research shows that some frequent marijuana users who smoke throughout the day and night report greater instances of insomnia at night.

Some researchers believe that smoking marijuana can lead to insomnia, and then you get out of bed and smoke to fall asleep, and get stuck in a chicken or egg situation. Some strains of marijuana might also give you vivid dreams and nightmares that will leave you feeling restless in the morning, while others report getting nightmares only after they stop smoking weed.

However, people who have anxiety and depression and use marijuana regularly report fewer instances of insomnia or trouble sleeping. So if you don’t have anxiety or depression, marijuana might make sleeping more difficult. If you do, it might help you sleep better. When it comes to using medical marijuana or CBDs to treat your insomnia (or any other ailment), it really is all about trial and error.

You have to figure out what strains and doses work for your body, decide your method of delivery (like if you prefer vaping, eating a cookie, or using a tincture), and how often you use it. Research shows that marijuana definitely treats a number of medical conditions, but since there are so many variables, it’s not like the FDA or your doctor can just hand you a bottle of nuggets or gummies and send you on your way like they do with antibiotics.

Which is exactly why the research and recommendations about medical marijuana for sleep tend to vary — if you look at the AASM position on weed or synthetics for sleep apnea in particular, or the FDA’s position on approving weed as a medicine overall, that’s exactly what they’re saying. It’s hard to regulate consumption and therefore hard to know how it works, exactly. Now that there’s less stigma surrounding marijuana use, there will hopefully be more funding for research on medical marijuana. We’re only just getting started when it comes to understanding the plant and its potential medical benefits.

Medical marijuana or other cannabis products are definitely worth considering if you’re having trouble sleeping, but you should talk to your health care provider first and give them your medical history. Marijuana is not a miracle drug, especially when it comes to using it for sleep. You might get lucky and find something that works the first night or go through entire bags of cannabis products before you can get a good night’s sleep.