Sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night, is associated with a number of potentially fatal health problems if it goes untreated. The most popular and successful treatment, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, may be challenging to adapt to at first. Because of this, some people with sleep apnea look for alternatives to traditional medical care. Is cannabis, which is the common name for marijuana used for medicinal purposes, on that list? We got a professional’s opinion on the matter.
Effects of Marijuana on Sleep Disordered Breathing
Chronic pain, tremors, nausea, and even glaucoma are just some of the symptoms that medical cannabis may alleviate or prevent. Some studies suggest that cannabis may help people go to sleep, and the American Sleep Association has noted this.
Jeff Chen, MD, MBA, Founder and former Director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, tells WebMD Connect to Care, “There is data showing that cannabinoids [i.e. chemical compounds found in cannabis] can improve sleep in individuals suffering from fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and multiple sclerosis.”
Chen explains that it is unclear if the improved sleep was due to cannabis alleviating the underlying disorders or directly influencing sleep since measuring sleep quality was not the main goal of these trials.
Although there is a dearth of data on the benefits of cannabis on sleep apnea, Chen points out that early clinical studies with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the major psychoactive component in cannabis, have showed promise.
When asked about the effectiveness of cannabis in treating sleep apnea, he states, “There are no randomized controlled studies.” However, multiple randomized, placebo-controlled studies of pure synthetic THC have shown that it reduces apnea-hypopnea index, decreases self-reported tiredness, and increases satisfaction with therapy compared to placebo. THC doses from 2.5 to 10 milligrams taken one hour before bedtime were more effective than a placebo in reducing sleep apnea symptoms.
Still, there are risks associated with using THC. Intoxication, dependence risk, pregnancy difficulties, and an increased chance of schizophrenia in people with a hereditary susceptibility are all examples. Adolescents may potentially have cognitive impairments as a result. Also, cannabis is not an accepted medical therapy for sleep apnea at this time.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has said that further proof of the usefulness of medicinal marijuana for the treatment of sleep apnea is now required, even if the availability of cannabis for the treatment of sleep apnea varies by state. In light of this, the AASM suggests seeing a doctor about tried-and-true therapy methods.