“Mr. Sandman bring me a dream…” Sometimes it’s not that easy. According to the NIH 10-15% of adults complain of chronic insomnia, with as many as 40% suffering in the short term throughout the year. This is no laughing matter. Sleep is a very important bodily function. It allows the body to relax and recuperate from the stresses that make up daily life. It is necessary also to keep the mind healthy. Insomnia can lead to many neurological disorders including hallucinations, memory failure, psychotic episodes and many more. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Stay awake long enough and that will happen sooner rather than later.
For those who suffer from sleep disorders, there are many treatments available. Some problems can be solved with a change of diet or behavior. Other people benefit from meditation and relaxation techniques. For many others, the only solace lies in a doctor’s prescription. Many narcotics, such as Valium, are derived from opiates. They are effective, but do have their drawbacks. Most sleeping medications, like Lunesta, Ambien, Rozerem, and Halcion can be habit forming and need to be carefully regulated. And a common problem with any drug, taken over extended periods is tolerance. As the body grows used to it, more and more of the drug is necessary to achieve the desired effect. On a long enough time scale, or at high enough doses, all of these drugs can be lethal or can cause dire withdrawal symptoms.
There is a natural alternative to these pharmaceuticals, and that alternative is Marijuana. Actually, there are many other naturally-found sleep aids available, such as Melatonin, but today let us discuss the wonder plant cannabis. Many patients prefer cannabis because it not only has sedative properties and causes drowsiness, but because it helps stimulate a sense of personal well-being. Many people’s insomnia is partially due to anxiety, and this reduces that feeling while also bringing on sleep. But how does it work? Luckily, this is a time where science is bringing all its tools together and our understanding of the plant is growing in leaps and bounds. The chemicals in marijuana, amongst them cannabinoids and terpenes, are numerous but many studies are underway to gain further knowledge of them. Terpenes are lipophilic (from latin “fat” + “love” so they work well with fats, just like cannabinoids) compounds found in almost every plant. They are the essential oils that are responsible for the odors we smell, such as pine, citrus and marijuana’s unique fragrance.
THC, the most famous of marijuana’s active compounds, has been shown to cause anxiety in some patients, but when it works in synergy with the many other compounds has sedative effects. When combined with the terpene Myrcene, THC can be sedating and acts as a muscle relaxant; Also, studies show it to “potentiate sleep time,” helping people to stay asleep. Some users refer to this as “couch-lock,” the feeling that they are melting into the couch, which is generally enjoyed by the cannabis crowd, and decried by its many detractors. Two other terpenes enjoy the “entourage effect” (synergy) of THC; they are Nerolidol and Linalool (also found in lavender). These are not the only interactions scientists have found. Limonene (found highly in lemons) works with CBD (cannabidiol) as an anti-anxiety compound to counter THC’s anxiety causing effects. And Nerolidol (also found in oranges) combine with THC and CBN (cannabinol) to augment the sedative qualities. CBD also works to counter the accelerated heartbeat that many users feel when smoking, an effect of the THC.
These are just a few of the 300+ chemicals and compounds found in marijuana. They work in conjunction to create the many effects that people feel when they medicate with cannabis. This is why many patients did not warm up to Marinol (Big Pharma’s pill) when it was released in the 1980′s. THC is not the only thing going on in that plant which helps so many people. One patient’s testimony, “I used to take Ambien for sleep, but I’d wind up sleepwalking. And in the morning, I’d be so groggy I could barely function. When I vape a little before bed, I feel peaceful and sleep well. Sometimes I am a bit foggy when I wake, but as soon as I get moving, the fog lifts and the day awaits. Before that, I slept poorly for years. I wish I could get a prescription for it where I lived.” With proper, regular sleep many of the little aches and pains that bother people from day to day vanish. When the Greenman meets the Sandman, people sleep at night and prosper in the day.