With one in five Australians suffering from a sleep disorder, there’s increasing interest in plant-based therapy as a therapeutic option for insomnia and sleep-related conditions. Besides immediate sleepiness and fatigue, other long-term results of sleep disorders may include diabetes, obesity, mental health and cardiovascular disease. So if you’re ‘the one in five’, whether you battle to fall asleep, stay asleep, or enjoy a restful sleep, don’t hit the snooze button in considering all safe and effective options to help improve sleep.

Understanding sleep regulation

Poor sleep quality can stem from a number of sleep disorders which include insomnia, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), narcolepsy, idiopathic hypersomnia, and circadian rhythm disorders. In many cases, conventional medication won’t be prescribed for long-term use because of the risk of dependency. This is why more and more people are turning to safe and effective plant-based therapies like medical cannabis for insomnia and other sleep disorders.

But in considering plant-based therapy for treatment, it helps to understand a bit about our body’s endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoids occur naturally in our bodies and help to regulate our internal balance, which includes sleep, appetite, memory, mood, reproduction, and inflammation. Phytocannabinoids, which occur in the cannabis plant, are recognised as endocannabinoids by our bodies. Together with receptors and enzymes, endocannabinoids help regulate our internal bodily balance, with positive effects on sleep, pain, inflammation and other ailments.

What is medical cannabis?

There are more than 60 cannabinoid compounds in the cannabis plant. Medicinal cannabis products generally include one or both of the two main cannabinoids — delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) — which are responsible for most of the medical benefits. THC is the main psychoactive compound; CBD has no psychoactive effect.

Medical cannabis products are available in a number of formats with varying chemical composition, prescribed by a doctor based on a patient’s individual needs. This includes oil, oral spray, dried flower (bud), vape concentrate and softgels. The time taken to feel the effects depends on the method of administration — which can be inhalation, ingestion and sublingual, or topical.

Is medical cannabis legal in Australia?

In 2016 the Australian government established a licensing and permit scheme for the lawful research, cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis. Various stakeholders evolved in the sector with agri-tech Cannatrek as one of the first companies in Australia to be fully licensed, maintaining a leadership position in research, commercial production and healthcare and patient service ever since.

How does patient access and eligibility work?

Together with licensing cannabis companies, the Australian government also established a framework for doctors to prescribe, and eligible patients to access medical cannabis through the Department of Health’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Pharmacies across Australia are permitted to sell medical cannabis to patients with a TGA approved doctor’s prescription. Low-dose CBD products are available over-the-counter.

Sleep-related benefits, research and clinical trials

The connection between cannabis and its sleep-promoting effects dates back centuries. In recent years medical cannabis is increasingly considered as an alternative therapy option to existing sleep medications. Some contemporary studies linking medicinal cannabis to improved sleep are noted below.

A 2017 New England study with over 1,500 patients at a medical marijuana dispensary indicated a decrease in use of pharmaceutical medication (including sleep medication) for about two-thirds of patients upon use of medical cannabis. In a study for PTSD treatment, the findings showed that a patient’s CBD use resulted in a maintained decrease of paediatric anxiety and a steady improvement in quality and quantity of sleep.

In a 2017 review of research on cannabis and sleep, it was found that CBD may have therapeutic potential to treat insomnia. Obstructive sleep apnea shows positive short-term benefits from using synthetic cannabinoids like nabilone and dronabinol. Nabilone may also reduce nightmares for PTSD patients and improve sleep for chronic pain. And CBD may have potential for REM sleep behaviour disorder and excessive daytime sleepiness. Current Australian studies include CANSLEEP’s Research Study into insomnia as well as other clinical trials.

With more research needed, the link between the benefits of medical cannabis and sleep is a field wide awake with growing interest and great possibility as a viable therapeutic option for insomnia and sleep-related disorders.

This is a sponsored article produced in partnership with Cannatrek.

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