Too often, our lives conspire to interrupt sleep. Pain, chronic disease, depression, PTSD, worry, or some mysteriously aggravating unknown keep us tossing and turning. Even long days at work and never-ending demands at home squeeze out the hours we can devote to sleep.

Americans are so desperate for shut-eye that they shelled out an astounding $41 billion in sleep aids in 2015, and spending is expected to rise to $52 billion by 2020.

Now a new, safe sleep aid is entering the picture. Medical marijuana, legal in Pennsylvania since 2016, is appearing as an effective and promising treatment. A recent survey of medical marijuana users found that 65 percent use it as a sleep aid, and 76 percent use it for relaxation. Up to 84 percent say they found relief from the side effects of their conditions that can also cause sleeplessness, such as stress and depression.

The trouble with sleeplessness

More than one in four of us reports regular trouble falling asleep. Nearly three in four, or about 164 million Americans, fight to fall asleep at least once a week.

The consequences ripple far into the daylight hours:

  • Persistent lack of sleep contributes to depression, heart disease, compromised immune system, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Sleep drugs, whether prescribed or over-the-counter, often don’t deliver relief and can, in fact, cause drowsiness and confusion the next day– negating the reason for taking drugs in the first place. The risk of lingering aftereffects rises with age, as the body metabolizes the drugs more slowly. Some drug users even doze off while driving, endangering themselves and others.
  • Many users of sleep drugs use them inappropriately, taking too much or mixing with other meds or alcohol. Others ignore warnings that the drugs should only be taken when at least seven or eight hours are available for sleep.

Medical marijuana aids sleep

Medical marijuana offers several advantages over traditional approaches:

Medical marijuana is 114 times safer than alcohol and tobacco:Instead of reaching for that nightcap, try medical marijuana as a relaxant. Alcohol consumed in the evening can actually aggravate sleeplessness. For cannabis use, the “MOE” – “margin of exposure,” or the distance between estimated intake and toxicity – is “above safety thresholds,” while “the risk of alcohol may have been commonly underestimated,” report researchers from Germany and Canada.

Marijuana can minimize anxietyHarvard researchers note that low doses of THC, a marijuana compound, can calm the anxiety that often disrupts sleep. It’s important, though, not to consume high doses, because THC is the compound known to cause the traditional “high” associated with marijuana. Too much, and it can trigger anxiety instead of alleviating it.

Medical marijuana can ease chronic pain:Chronic pain, one of Pennsylvania’s 21 qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use, afflicts nearly 100 million Americans. Medical marijuana is known to be “quite effective” for easing chronic pain, says one Harvard researcher, and “it is clearly safer than opiates,” especially because it’s impossible to overdose on cannabis.

Pennsylvanians seeking medical marijuana must first obtain certification from a physician and a medical marijuana card. After that, the budtenders and medical professionals at a Pennsylvania dispensary can advise on the product types and dosages most effective at delivering restful sleep, sending you on your way to dreamy nights and productive days.