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Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Sleep: a Review of the Literature

Affiliations

  • 1 National Center for PTSD-Dissemination & Training Division, VA Palo Alto Health Care System, 795 Willow Road, Menlo Park, CA, 94025, USA. [email protected]
  • 2 Palo Alto University, Palo Alto, CA, USA.
  • 3 National Center for PTSD-Dissemination & Training Division, VA Palo Alto Health Care System, 795 Willow Road, Menlo Park, CA, 94025, USA.
  • PMID: 28349316
  • DOI: 10.1007/s11920-017-0775-9

Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Sleep: a Review of the Literature

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Authors

Affiliations

  • 1 National Center for PTSD-Dissemination & Training Division, VA Palo Alto Health Care System, 795 Willow Road, Menlo Park, CA, 94025, USA. [email protected]
  • 2 Palo Alto University, Palo Alto, CA, USA.
  • 3 National Center for PTSD-Dissemination & Training Division, VA Palo Alto Health Care System, 795 Willow Road, Menlo Park, CA, 94025, USA.
  • PMID: 28349316
  • DOI: 10.1007/s11920-017-0775-9

Abstract

Purpose of review: The current review aims to summarize the state of research on cannabis and sleep up to 2014 and to review in detail the literature on cannabis and specific sleep disorders from 2014 to the time of publication.

Recent findings: Preliminary research into cannabis and insomnia suggests that cannabidiol (CBD) may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of insomnia. Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) may decrease sleep latency but could impair sleep quality long-term. Novel studies investigating cannabinoids and obstructive sleep apnea suggest that synthetic cannabinoids such as nabilone and dronabinol may have short-term benefit for sleep apnea due to their modulatory effects on serotonin-mediated apneas. CBD may hold promise for REM sleep behavior disorder and excessive daytime sleepiness, while nabilone may reduce nightmares associated with PTSD and may improve sleep among patients with chronic pain. Research on cannabis and sleep is in its infancy and has yielded mixed results. Additional controlled and longitudinal research is critical to advance our understanding of research and clinical implications.

Keywords: Cannabinoids; Cannabis; Insomnia; Sleep; Sleep apnea.

Preliminary research into cannabis and insomnia suggests that cannabidiol (CBD) may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of insomnia. Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) may decrease sleep latency but could impair sleep quality long-term. Novel studies investigating cannabinoids and obstructi …

Cannabinoid drug found effective for treating sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is estimated to affect 1 in 5 American adults, and there are currently no drugs available to treat it. But a large-scale clinical trial now offers hope, proving that a drug that uses a synthetic version of the main psychoactive substance in cannabis is effective for treating the disorder.

Share on Pinterest A synthetic version of purified THC — the active substance found in marijuana — could be effective for treating sleep apnea.

The drug is called dronabinol, and it is based on a synthetic version of Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the main psychoactive compound responsible for the “high” in cannabis use.

The randomized clinical trial is the longest and largest of its kind, and the results are from its second phase. Dronabinol is already in use for the treatment of nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy.

David W. Carley, a professor of biobehavioral health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), jointly led the study with Dr. Phyllis Zee, professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and director of the Northwestern Medicine Sleep Disorders Center, both in Chicago, IL.

At least a mild form of sleep apnea is thought to affect 1 in 5 Americans, and treatment options are limited. Obstructive sleep apnea — the most prevalent form of the condition — is usually treated mechanically with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. However, treatment adherence to this mechanical option is very poor.

Recurrent, untreated sleep apnea may lead to cardiovascular problems, such as heart disease and stroke. “There is a tremendous need for effective, new treatments [for] obstructive sleep apnea,” says Prof. Carley, who is also the first author of the paper.

The drug tested in this trial — results of which are published in journal Sleep — works by targeting the brain. Dr. Zee explains, “The CPAP device targets the physical problem but not the cause.”

“The drug targets the brain and nerves that regulate the upper airway muscles. It alters the neurotransmitters from the brain that communicate with the muscles.”

“When people take a pill to treat apnea, they are treated for the entire night,” adds Prof. Carley.

The largest and longest trial of a drug for obstructive sleep apnea finds the cannabinoid drug dronabinol safe and effective for treating the condition.