Study Shows People Are Ditching OTC Sleep Aids, Using Cannabis Instead

One of the most common uses of the cannabis plant has long been to help people fall asleep.

A recent peer-reviewed study has produced data showing that people who struggle with sleep might be favoring cannabis over other common prescription and over the counter sleep aids. 

The study, published in Exploration of Medicine found that 80% of cannabis users with sleep issues reported no longer needing prescription or over-the-counter sleep medication. Sixty percent of people who used cannabis alone were able to fall asleep and stay asleep for at least six hours, compared to only 20% of people who used alternatives. 

The study was conducted by analyzing responses to surveys by a Canadian cannabis data company called Strainprint. The researchers looked at data from 1,216 participants who all self-reported that they use cannabis to help them fall asleep or stay asleep. Senior author of the study and associate professor of psychology at Washington State University, Carrie Cuttler, said in a written statement that some of the study participants actually sought out particular strains with particular terpenes specifically to help them sleep. 

“One of the findings that surprised me was the fact that people are seeking the terpene myrcene in cannabis to assist with sleep,” Cuttler said. “There is some evidence in the scientific literature to support that myrcene may help to promote sleep, so cannabis users seemed to have figured that out on their own.”

According to the study, most of the survey participants reported smoking or vaping cannabis flower as their primary method of ingestion. Thirty-three-point-eight percent of participants used edibles to help them sleep and 14.1% of participants reported using capsules containing THC oil. The study presumed that these options were sought after for longer-lasting effects, but chosen less often due to the near-immediate effects that the user gets with smoking or vaping. 

The study found that cannabis use at night did not inhibit work performance or cause drowsiness the next day, unlike comparable prescription and over-the-counter sleep aid alternatives like benzodiazepines, melatonin, or antihistamines. However, some of the tell-tale side effects of cannabis were, predictably, reported as well.

“Comparisons of the self-reported effects of cannabis to conventional sleep aids revealed that participants reported feeling more refreshed, focused, better able to function, fewer headaches, and less nausea the morning after using cannabis for sleep than after using more conventional sleep aids or no sleep aids,” the study said. “However, they indicated they were more sleepy, anxious, and irritable in the mornings following the use of cannabis relative to other sleep aids. Participants were more likely to report red eyes and thirst and less likely to report nausea, anxiety, paranoia, and racing heart as side effects of cannabis relative to other sleep aids.”

Some background information on the study participants has been included here for posterity: 82.2% of survey participants self-reported that they regularly experienced difficulty falling asleep and 61.6% said they had difficulty falling back asleep if they woke up in the middle of the night for no reason, which 67.1% of participants said they did. Sixty-eight-point-eight percent reported feeling tired the next day and 53.9% reported difficulty functioning the next day due to poor sleep. Sixty-four-point-nine precent of study participants self-disclosed that they had been experiencing these sleep-related issues for five years or more. Sixty-eight percent reported using cannabis every night to help them sleep and 70% had been using cannabis to go to sleep for over one year. 

While the findings of this study might suggest that cannabis helps people fall asleep and stay asleep, there are noteworthy caveats to the information due to the way the information was collected and analyzed, which the authors of the study acknowledged. There was a strong selection bias because they only talked to people who use cannabis. The study also looked at data exclusively from people in Canada, so the sample may not be wholly representative. Regardless, the authors of the study said the data seems to indicate that cannabis might at the very least be a viable alternative for people who don’t respond well to alternative solutions. 

“In general, the use of cannabis for sleep-related issues was perceived as more advantageous than over the counter medications or prescription sleep aids,” Cuttler said. “Unlike long-acting sedatives and alcohol, cannabis was not associated with a ‘hangover’ effect, although individuals reported some lingering effects such as sleepiness and changes in mood.”

1 comment
  1. What I’m going through now. Since I’ve retired I no longer have to worry about tests, so being a disabled vet in my 60’s some indica an hour or so before bed no only helps me sleep, but it helps with my back and neck pain. Quite a bit different than things were in the 70’s. Then it was like get some Columbian or Acapulco Gold, Tai Stick, or rag weed and that was it for the most part. Now there are dozens of strainf to choose from. Never even heard of Indica or Sativa in those days.

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