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Marijuana and Sleep, the Debate Rages On

A woman rests peacefully on black silken sheets and rests her head on a white pillow ebroidered with little black pot leaves.


Marijuana and Sleep, the Debate Rages On

Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania recently published a report on a potential link between marijuana and insomnia. Writers the world over ran with it. Articles titled “Marijuana Use Can Bring Sleepless Nights, Study Finds” by TIME and “Marijuana Could Turn you into a Nighttime “Walking-Dead” Zombie,” by the International Business Times were posted in record time, yet one thing the titles fail to convey – the study did not find a causality between marijuana and sleep disturbance.

The researchers, rather than navigating the immense hurdles created by the Drug Enforcement Administration to begin testing with actual marijuana, used previous data from a 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination survey. The survey collected information from participants ranging in age from 20 to 59, 1,811 of those reported a history of drug use.

The researchers analyzed this information against markers including the first age that the respondent used cannabis and the number of times respondents had used in the past month. Any participant noting more than 15 days of disturbed sleep were considered to have severe sleep problems. While the results do find a link between sleep problems and cannabis use, the writers of the publication were careful to note the results were “not determined to show causality.”

The lead author Dr. Michael Grandner, reiterated this point in an interview with The Daily Beast, “We cannot determine that [marijuana causes sleep problems.] Actually, all we could document was that the people who endorsed marijuana use also endorsed sleep problems, and they tended to go together, especially if age at first use was under 15 years, all we can say is that there is an overlap.”

While several academics note marijuana may reduce sleep quality by reducing allover REM and SWS sleep, most in depth clinical research on the subject has not been designed or replicated since the 1970s. Unfortunately, until such research on marijuana becomes more straightforward, through the loosening on federal regulation, concerns about sleep and other health issues as they relate to cannabis will be up for debate.

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