Sleep Apnea and Medical Marijuana

“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”- Thomas Dekker

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing stops and starts at irregular intervals. There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax, and central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. Some people may have a combination of the two called, complex sleep apnea. Individuals who suffer from sleep apnea are rarely aware of their difficulty breathing, even upon awakening.

Some major signs of sleep apnea include loud and chronic snoring, choking, snorting, or gasping during sleep, long pauses in breathing, daytime sleepiness (no matter how much time you spend in bed), insomnia, forgetfulness, morning headaches and more. If you think you might have sleep apnea, see your doctor. Treatment is necessary to avoid heart problems and other complications.

There are many different treatments to sleep apnea. Some of which are as simple as sleeping on your side or propping your head up, doing throat exercises, and changing your diet, but others can include prescription drugs, CPAP masks, and surgery.

How can cannabis help?

The journal of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, researchers at the University of Illinois Department of Medicine reported “potent suppression” of sleep-related apnea in rats administered either exogenous or endogenous cannabinoids. Investigators reported that doses of delta-9-THC and the endocannabinoid oleamide each stabilized respiration during sleep and blocked serotonin-induced exacerbation of sleep apnea in a statistically significant manner. Several recent preclinical and clinical trials have reported on the use of THC, natural cannabis extracts and endocannabinoids to induce sleep and/or improve sleep quality.

Following the positive results of this pre-clinical trial, lead author Dr. David Carley published the first human trial to investigate the effects of THC (dronabinol) on sleep apnea. The results showed an overall reduction in apnea indexes of 32%, despite significant variance between patients. Even though a 32% reduction is minor when compared to the effectiveness of current treatment options (such as CPAP and oral devices), the authors suggest that cannabinoid medications could still be of benefit to patients who suffer from mild to moderate cases of sleep apnea, and could do so in a much more natural way.

Currently, researchers are studying a synthetic cannabis based pill, called dronabinol, that might be viable, and a much less intrusive, treatment for sleep apnea if approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

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