The Science Behind Getting Stoned to Sleep

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Last Updated: Sep 24, 2020

Marijuana can act as a stimulant, a depressant, and a hallucinogen — it defies these categories typically imposed on intoxicating substances. In some cases, smoking a blunt will energize you, helping you to accomplish tasks on your to-do list and invigorating you during social occasions. In other cases, nibbling an edible will help you sink into your couch, relaxing so deeply that you drift seamlessly into sleep.

Despite marijuana’s sometimes-rousing effects, the drug’s power as a sedative is making headlines within the sleep industry. Emerging research indicates that cannabis is perhaps the best drug for helping with troubled sleep. If you struggle to fall asleep or have endured bad experiences with drugs supposed to help you with sleep disorders, you might want to read on for information about how marijuana could be the best and ultimate solution.

marijuana sleep

The Compounds in Cannabis That Affect Sleep

Cannabis has been used as a sleep aid for centuries, and many patent medicines produced and peddled in America throughout the 19th century used cannabis for specifically the purposes of sleep. This is thanks in no small part to the unique compounds within cannabis that make you feel relaxed and ready for bed — specifically, those compounds are classified into cannabinoids and terpenes.


Researchers have identified more than 100 cannabinoids, which are compounds only found in the cannabis plant. Many cannabinoids are not well-researched; they might or might not have an impact on sleep. However, there are three cannabinoids known to affect your ability to catch Z’s. These cannabinoids include:

  • Cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is incredibly trendy, applied to all sorts of health disorders from epilepsy to muscle strain to PTSD. Non-psychoactive, CBD seems to stimulate the body’s endocannabinoid system to improve its ability to maintain internal balance.
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is easily the most famous cannabinoid because it is almost wholly responsible for the high associated with using marijuana. Though its psychoactive effects make THC feel like the most dangerous cannabinoid, it is exactly these effects that can promote health in various ways, including the facilitation of sleep.
  • Cannabinol (CBN). Though lacking as much research attention as CBD and THC, CBN is important to sleep sufferers because it seems to be a powerful sedative. However, CBN is only present in aged cannabis products because it develops as THC oxidizes.



Terpenes are molecules responsible for certain aromas and flavors. Unlike cannabinoids, most terpenes are not unique to the cannabis plant; there are more than 150 terpenes, many of which exist in different combinations in various plants. However, like cannabinoids, terpenes can have various effects on health. Some increase energy, some alter mood, and some increase sleepiness, especially the following terpenes identified in cannabis:

  • Myrcene. With sedative and anti-inflammatory effects, myrcene is among the most common terpenes in cannabis. Smelling peppery and woody, myrcene is also found in hops, thyme, and lemongrass.
  • Caryophyllene. Another spicy scent, caryophyllene is found in cloves and black pepper and boasts anxiolytic and analgesic properties, both of which promote sleep.
  • Limonene. As the name suggests, limonene is a terpene that provides citrus fruits with their dominant aroma and flavor. Research has found limonene to reduce stress and even fight depression, potentially because it elevates serotonin levels in the brain which could also be useful in encouraging restful sleep.
  • Linalool. A lavender-scented terpene, linalool is common in many plants, and like limonene, it effectively lowers anxiety and depression symptoms. Instead of utilizing serotonin, linalool increases a sedating hormone, adenosine, to facilitate good sleep.

Not all marijuana strains contain the right cannabinoids and terpenes for fostering sleep. If you are interested in harnessing the power of cannabis for sleep, you should talk to your doctor — but you should also get recommendations from a knowledgeable budtender who can point you to the products that contain the right combination of compounds for sleep. In fact, it might be useful to look up a few 24-hour dispensaries in your area for those nights when you really can’t sleep.

What Cannabis Can Do for Troubled Sleepers

Understanding cannabinoids and terpenes that contribute to cannabis’s sedative effect is well and good — but what can you actually gain from using cannabis for sleep? Like other sleep medications available today, marijuana is most often used to help those with insomnia or sleep-related disorders fall asleep faster and stay in deep sleep for a longer period. However, unlike other sleep medications, and unlike other substances often used as sleep aids, marijuana does not interfere with your body’s natural sleep cycle. Thus, by using cannabis products, you will enjoy every phase of the sleep cycle to fully rest and restore your body and mind.

Marijuana is many things, and it seems that an extremely valuable sleep aid is one of them. With more research into the application of cannabinoids and terpenes for sleep — and with more acceptance of cannabis as a sleeping tool — perhaps everyone will finally get the sleep they deserve.

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