marijuana and insomnia
June 3, 2014

Marijuana Use May Impair Sleep And Cause Insomnia

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe Online

For those who have enjoyed the therapeutic and/or entertaining properties of marijuana, the initial feelings of relaxation and euphoria are not unexpected. Very soon after ingestion, either by smoking or consuming orally via food or beverage, a user's eyes may dilate, providing a visual intensity to colors and textures. Other senses may also be heightened. Each of these feelings and sensations are hard to view as negative. But the green revolution has negative side effects as well.

In a new study conducted by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, adult participants between the ages of 20 and 59 were selected based upon their responses to the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Of the total number of subjects studied, 1811 participants had self-reported a history of drug use. The researchers focused in on cannabis usage as it pertained to overall history of use, age when first used and the number of times the drug was consumed in the month previous.

What the team soon realized was that any history of cannabis use caused the individual to have an increased likelihood of difficulty both in falling asleep and maintaining sleep. Additionally, they often would fail to achieve restorative sleep which leads to daytime sleepiness. For a participant's sleep issues to be rated as being severe, they would have to experience these conditions at least 15 days per month.

While sleep issues were noted by many of the participants, the research team found the strongest association for this occurrence among those who began their marijuana usage before the age of 15. In fact, those who started their marijuana usage at that young age were deemed twice as likely to suffer severe sleep-related problems. These findings held true regardless of age, sex, race/ethnicity and education.

“Current and past marijuana users are more likely to experience sleep problems,” said lead author Jilesh Chheda, research assistant at the University of Pennsylvania, working with Dr. Michael Grandner, the senior author on the study. “The most surprising finding was that there was a strong relationship with age of first use, no matter how often people were currently using marijuana. People who started using early were more likely to have sleep problems as an adult.”

A limitation of the study is that it was designed so that causality could not effectively be examined. While the early use of marijuana may be responsible for increased insomnia symptoms, the researchers concede other reasons may be contributing factors for the insomnia, such as stress. Another possibility is that insomnia was a factor in their trying marijuana in the first place. However, use of marijuana to combat insomnia is not, as their study shows, the most effective means to find peaceful and restful sleep.

“Marijuana use is common, with about half of adults having reported using it at some point in their life,” said Chheda. “As it becomes legal in many states, it will be important to understand the impact of marijuana use on public health, as its impact on sleep in the ‘real world’ is not well known.”

The conversation on long-term effects of marijuana is an important one to have. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse has reported, marijuana use among young people has been steadily increasing since 2007. And when you take into account that both Colorado and Washington have ended the prohibition of recreational use among adults, with 21 other states allowing for medicinal use of cannabis, it is clear that a complete understanding of the drug and its long-term effects will be important for the creation and implementation of policy centered on cannabis use.

The research, recently published in an online supplement of the journal Sleep, will be formally presented at SLEEP 2014 this week in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This will be the 28th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, LLC.

Funding for the study, supervised by Michael Grandner, PhD, instructor in the Division of Mood and Anxiety Disorders in the Department of Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, was provided by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences; and the University of Pennsylvania Clinical and Translational Science Award.