DYING TO SLEEP
By Lanny Swerdlow, RN
When anti-harm reduction drug warriors rant against laws allowing for medicinal use of cannabis, they always trot out insomnia as an example of a trivial ailment for which a medical marijuana recommendation can be written.
Far from being trivial, the impact of insomnia on your health is enormous. Complications from insomnia include daytime fatigue, difficulty paying attention or focusing on tasks, tension headaches, gastrointestinal upset, lower performance on the job or at school, slowed reaction time while driving and higher risk of accidents, weight gain or obesity, poor immune system function, increased risk and severity of long-term diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes and psychiatric problems such as irritability, depression and anxiety.
Dr. Robert Goldberg of The Center for Medicine in the Public Interest has stated that “we should treat insomnia as it should be treated: a serious medical condition that has significant health and economic implications.” A survey conducted by the Washington-based National Sleep Foundation estimated the annual medical and reduced productivity costs associated with insomnia among U.S. workers to be $92.5 billion to $107.5 billion.
The Institutes of Medicine, which advises Congress on health policy, reports that Americans spend nearly $3 billion a year trying to get to sleep. Consumer Reports warns readers that all these medications can cause dependency and a host of other problems. Ambien—one of the most popular insomnia medications with physicians writing 26 million prescriptions a year—was reported by the The New York Times to make the top 10 list of drugs found in impaired drivers.
Desperate for sleep, turning to extremes is all too commonplace. Michael Jackson died trying to get to sleep. The night of his death, his doctor reportedly prescribed a host of medications including Valium, Ativan, Versed and Propofol. Obviously this is an unconscionable use of prescription pharmaceuticals, but Michael Jackson is not the first celebrity who died from using medications to treat insomnia. Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith, Elvis Presley, Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe all are believed to have died from prescription pharmaceuticals used to get a good night’s sleep.
Instead of drowning them in prescription pharmaceuticals, if their doctors had instructed all these famous folks to ingest some marijuana, they might have all lived another day as well as gotten that longed-for good night’s sleep.
Cannabis as an aid for sleep has been used safely and effectively for thousands of years. Seventy years ago, before cannabis was declared an illegal substance, cannabis was found in almost every American medicine cabinet and one of its principal uses was as a sedative. When Grandma was tossing and turning and unable to fall asleep, she would go to the medicine cabinet for a bottle of tincture of cannabis, place a few drops under her tongue, and snuggle back into bed next to Grandpa and drift off to sleep.
By reducing some of the problems associated with insomnia such as pain, depression, anxiety, stress and nausea, cannabis can help induce sleep. Even without any underlying problems, cannabis can help you get a good night’s rest.
Although popular anti-insomnia medications like Ambien and Lunestra will get you to sleep, you quite often do not feel well-rested when you wake up because these medications induce an artificial sleep. With cannabis, you wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated because cannabis induces a natural night’s sleep.
How much cannabis to take for insomnia is a very individual matter. Due to the government’s opposition to research that might show positive benefits for cannabis, there is no research out there for determining how much to use other than anecdotal evidence. You will have to determine how much you need to use to obtain the therapeutic dose necessary to fall asleep.
One thing you need to consider is how to ingest cannabis for insomnia. Although inhaling cannabis remains the most common method of ingestion, many patients find that ingesting it as an edible to be the most effective delivery route for insomnia. Although it takes longer to achieve its effect when taken through the digestive system, the effects last longer.
The other thing to keep in mind when using cannabis for insomnia is which strain to use. Most people find indica strains to be more relaxing, with a pronounced sedative quality. Sativas tend to be more of an energizer. For many people, it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference and the bottom line is generally any pot is better than no pot.
If you are not getting at least 6 to 8 hours sleep a night because you can’t fall or stay asleep or because you’re waking up to early, then cannabis may very well give you the good night’s rest that has been eluding you for far too long. You shouldn’t have to die trying to get to sleep.
Lanny Swerdlow, RN, is director of the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project, an Inland Empire medical-marijuana patient support group and law reform organization. Contact him at (760) 799-2055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.