Does marijuana improve sleep? 84 percent in survey had this same response

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In the United States, marijuana is becoming increasingly legalized and normalized, with 86 percent of Americans citing its perceived medical benefits as the best reason for its decriminalization.

A peer-reviewed survey published Tuesday in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found that there’s popular belief that marijuana use results in better sleep and pain reduction. The researchers showed that people who use marijuana for those two reasons found the drug helped.

The survey found that 74 percent of the 1,000 people interviewed in the survey bought marijuana to help them sleep; 84 percent of whom said the marijuana had helped them. Over 83 percent said that they had since reduced or stopped taking sleep aids.

Study co-author Gwen Wurm, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami, tells Inverse that she was motivated to pursue this research by the numerous anecdotal reports of individuals going to dispensaries to get marijuana to treat insomnia, pain, and other conditions.

Wurm’s intention was to build an understanding of the varied population that uses cannabis, as well as the varied intentions of users.

“A daily user could be a grandmother taking an edible that she believes enhances sleep, or a construction worker suffering from back pain at the end time of the day,” Wurm says.

The team surveyed customers who shopped at two marijuana retail stores in Colorado between August and October 2016. Within this group, 65 percent reported that they used marijuana to relieve pain, while the aforementioned 74 percent reported that they used it to promote sleep — indicating some crossover in the motivation for consumption.

The overwhelming result from this population was that those who sought out marijuana to help with pain and poor sleep were satisfied with the results. Of those who used it for pain, 80 percent reported it was very helpful.

Results of Scientific Research Are Varied

These findings add to the increasing sense that, when it comes to marijuana’s effect on an individual’s bodily health, clear answers are not currently available — especially when it comes to marijuana’s effects on sleep.

Previous studies have found that daily marijuana users have more disturbed sleeping periods than non-daily users, while others have found that marijuana use can lead to worse sleep at night and increased sleepiness during the day. There is also evidence that the THC in marijuana could impair sleep quality long-term — but when an individual quits, that could potentially make their sleep problems worse.

Wurm says it’s possible that different studies on marijuana and sleep are resulting in different findings because of the physiological differences in users, products, and modes of delivery. It’s also possible that some types of cannabis may help sleep, while others could interrupt it. What scientists know for sure, Wurm emphasizes, is that there’s a huge need for more research.

Still, if marijuana truly does help with issues like pain and poor sleep, it could be a boon for public health. In this group of 1,000 people, many chose to stop taking pharmaceutical drugs to treat those problems. In the group who used marijuana for pain, 82 percent reported that they were able to reduce or stop taking over-the-counter meds, while 88 percent reported that they were able to stop taking opioid painkillers.

Meanwhile, 83 percent of the interviewees who used marijuana for sleep also said they were able to reduce or stop taking over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids.

The study’s authors suggest that this means cannabis could lower opioid use — although previous studies have also demonstrated conflicting support for that idea. Some researchers believe that marijuana helps patients with pain because it improves the emotional component of pain, rather than reducing the intensity of pain itself.

Wurm says it’s likely we’ll have better answers after the completion of more placebo-controlled trials. The research out there now is limited and primarily observational. The team acknowledges that this study does come with its own caveats — including the possibility that the responses reflect a “social desirability bias” — and the results were not verified against medical or prescription records.

Until there’s more research, she says it’s important that “people communicate with their primary care providers to help them make choices that enhance their health and welfare being.” Studies show when that doesn’t happen, doctors are worse off at providing the care that an individual needs.

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