If you are practicing good sleep hygiene and still not catching zzz’s, it could be time to talk to your doctor about trying something new.

It's no secret that sleep is super important. Beyond helping you feel focused and ready for each day, getting enough sleep is crucial for supporting your immune system, maintaining a healthy weight and improving heart health. But unfortunately for many of us, it is hard to come by.  Fifty to 70 million people in the U.S. experience symptoms of a sleep disorder, and nearly 40 million Americans deal with insomnia. Not getting enough sleep can lead to impaired memory, skin aging, increased risk for chronic illness and more. 

So what can you do if you are struggling to get enough sleep but finding that practicing good sleep hygiene—think no late caffeine or alcohol, turning off electronics, going to bed at the same time every night—isn't quite cutting it? There might be a case to make for trying cannabis to help you sleep. As it becomes legal in more states, there is more and more research coming out about the potential benefits of moderate cannabis use for certain conditions. To learn more, we dove into the research and talked with Jordan Tishler, M.D., an instructor at Harvard Medical School and president of the Association of Cannabis Specialists.

What Is Cannabis?

Cannabis refers to the products derived from the plant Cannabis sativa. The cannabis plant contains more than 500 chemical compounds, but the two main compounds that impact humans are called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is growing in popularity, as it can help with relieving pain, quelling inflammation and reducing anxiety without the psychological effects that THC presents. 

Cannabis has been linked to improving numerous health conditions, including anxiety, chronic pain, epilepsy, irritable bowel syndrome, PTSD and more. Cannabis can be inhaled or orally ingested (for more, check out what happens to your body when you eat edibles). 

A young woman sleeping with a designed background of cannabis leaves
Credit: Getty Images / Catherine Delahaye / esvetleishaya

Cannabis & Sleep 

"There are a wide range of illnesses that cannabis can be used to treat.  Pain is an obvious example," explained Tishler, "Of all of those conditions, however, insomnia is what cannabis treats best. There are a range of studies on this." Studies have linked cannabis and cannabinoids to improved sleep quality, fewer sleep disturbances and decreased time to fall asleep. This could be related to our body's endocannabinoid system and its impact on sleep. We produce endogenous cannabinoids in our bodies that can help trigger our neurons to induce sleep, and use of cannabis can increase how receptive our bodies are to these compounds. In fact, one study done in 2017 found that roughly two-thirds of the 1,500 participants surveyed decreased their pharmaceutical sleep medication use as a result of using medical cannabis. 

However, dose and method of use is important to consider and is highly individual. "More recent studies that control the dose and use lower doses have shown significant benefit. So, as with all medications, dose is the critical factor," adds Tishler. "I would never recommend that anyone try cannabis, or any other medication, without the guidance of a trained physician. DIY health care is just not a good idea," advises Tishler, "However, in the context of medical treatment, cannabis can be worth trying."

Tips for Getting Started 

Some research has found cannabis to be helpful for people with sleep disorders or difficulty sleeping. As with any medical or lifestyle intervention, it is important to consult your doctor before making a big change. If you are new to cannabis, check out these tips to know before trying edibles for the first time, too. Most importantly, Tishler recommends getting connected with a reputable cannabinoid specialist who can help give you individual advice. Connect with the Association of Cannabinoid Specialists or your regular doctor for help finding someone.