Getting high can be a very enjoyable activity, but nearly every cannabis user has experienced sleepiness and lethargy as a result of cannabis use at least once. While cannabis impacts each user differently, many have reported feeling drowsy after smoking weed. If this happened to you, you may have shrugged it off and thought it was just the strain, or maybe you were tired that day, but if it happened more than once it may make you wonder.
It seems like there’s a complex connection between marijuana use and feeling sleepy afterward, which is what we cover in this article. We’ll talk about the sedative effects of cannabis and why it makes you sleepy, so let’s get started.
Cannabis Can Make You Sleepy for More Reasons Than One
The cannabis plant has a very complex and unique chemical structure with compounds that work together to produce different effects. As you already know, this makes cannabis suitable to use for both medical and recreational purposes. On top of that, humans also have unique organisms and what works for one person may not work for another. When you add weed into the mix, it makes space for countless chemical interactions.
Therefore, weed will cause different reactions for everyone, but sleepiness is a common denominator and it’s due to a combination of factors.
Contrary to Popular Opinion, It’s Not Just About the Different Strains
To begin with, the popular opinion regarding weed and weed strains is that Indica strains are sedating and are better used at night, while Sativa strains are energizing and more suitable for the daytime.
However, this simplification does more harm than good as the chemical structure of any weed strain is much more complicated than that. Cannabis contains many cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavanols that all work harmoniously together to create different effects.
That doesn’t mean that this “rule” doesn’t apply at all. Some heavy iIndicas, for example, can give you a major couch-lock, and similarly, some Sativas can feel like a shot of espresso, but what we’re trying to say is that there’s more to it, especially with the huge variety of strains on the market.
Therefore, when you buy weed, it’s much better to pay attention to the cannabinoid ratio rather than the strain. It will give you a more accurate insight into the strain you’re eyeing and you’ll know what to expect.
What Does the Cannabinoid Ratio Tell Us?
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive cannabinoid that gets you high and produces feelings of euphoria. It also has sedative properties, which causes the famous couch-lock sensation that you get from high THC strains.
Additionally, there is another cannabinoid, CBN (cannabinol) that’s created as THC degrades. Aged weed that has been stored for a long time or weed that hasn’t been protected from light has a higher percentage of CBN. This cannabinoid isn’t as psychoactive as THC and it has powerful sedative properties.
CBD (cannabidiol) doesn’t get you high, but it has calming and therapeutic effects and controls the intensity of THC. It also has anti-anxiety effects and can promote better focus and mental alertness. That’s why high CBD strains are more energizing.
That being said, the ratio of the cannabinoids is more important than the strain they belong to. If the strain you’re frequently smoking is high in THC, it has a bigger potential to make you sleepy. Plus, aged strains that are high in THC will also have a high CBN percentage, which will make them even more sleep-inducing.
Besides, there is another group of compounds in cannabis that can make you sleepy, and those are the terpenes.
The Terpenes Are Just as Important as the Cannabinoids
Terpenes are the aromatic compounds that lend the flavor and aroma of the weed strains and they work together with the cannabinoids to enhance or counteract their effects. For example, the reason why many high-THC strains are more calming than others is that they contain terpenes that mitigate the effects of THC and promote relaxation.
There are many different terpenes found in each weed strain, which is why they come in so many unique flavors. Terpenes are not unique to just cannabis, though, but they’re found in most plants, flowers, and fruits.
The terpenes commonly found in strains that can make you sleepy are:
- Myrcene has sedative and relaxing effects. It’s also found in hops and ylang-ylang which are famous for their calming properties;
- Caryophyllene has analgesic and anti-anxiety effects that can promote sleep. It’s also found in black pepper, which is why it’s said that black pepper can help you mitigate the effects of THC when you’ve taken too much;
- Limonene has a citrus scent and it’s famous for its stress-reducing and sedative effects. It’s also found in citrus peels. Weed strains with high limonene content are usually recommended for insomnia relief, like Purple Hindu Kish and Berry White.
- Linalool is also found in lavender, a herb whose scent is famous for inducing deep relaxation. This terpene was shown to increase adenosine, a hormone that plays an important part in sleep homeostasis. Weed strains high in linalool are Amnesia Haze, Scooby Snacks, and OG Shark.
The Effects of THC on Dopamine
Cannabis interacts with the human body through the endocannabinoid system and its receptors, which gives it access to neurotransmitters that regulate mood, such as dopamine.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that plays a large part in the brain’s reward system, meaning that it’s released when you engage in pleasurable activities. It also plays an important part in focus, attention, and reward-motivated behavior. Essentially, dopamine motivates you to take action while having in mind the reward from the action.
When you consume weed, THC stimulates the release of dopamine and temporarily increases its levels which is what makes you feel the euphoria associated with it.
However, research shows that heavy use of marijuana (bordering on addiction) may have the opposite effect. Too much THC buildup can actually cause a decrease in the production of dopamine. This results in feelings of fatigue and lethargy, as well as decreased motivation to do anything because there’s no rewarding feeling afterward.
This effect of drowsiness and lack of motivation also appears to be temporary, as the dopamine receptors return back to normal given the appropriate amount of time for recovery. That’s why a lot of users take a tolerance break from time to time to restore their tolerance to THC if they need to.
So Then, Can Cannabis Be Used as a Sleep Aid?
As you know, insomnia is already on the list of qualifying conditions for a medical marijuana card in some states (eg. Florida, Missouri). Additionally, there are tons of anecdotal records of users claiming that marijuana use prior to bedtime has significantly improved their sleep quality and helped restore their natural sleep cycle.
And indeed, THC is known to reduce dreaming. This phenomenon is due to THC inhibiting the REM sleep stage (rapid eye movement), or the final stage of sleep when dreams occur. Therefore, when you use cannabis before bed you’ll spend less time in the REM stage, resulting in fewer dreams.
On the flip side, if you’ve been a frequent and/or heavy user, suddenly ceasing your cannabis use will result in temporary sleep disturbances as your body adjusts without the THC inhibiting the REM sleep stage. For many users, it could also mean having more vivid dreams than before.
Final Thoughts on Weed and Sleepiness
Weed produces a wide range of different effects that affect each user differently, but it seems like sleepiness is a commonly felt after-effect of smoking weed. There are many possible causes for this phenomenon, starting from the basics like using Indica strains as opposed to Sativa strains, to using strains that contain sleep-inducing compounds, all the way to weed inhibiting the production of dopamine.
Whichever the reason, it seems like taking a tolerance break and being mindful of the cannabinoid-terpene ratio is a safe way to prevent this after-effect. On the flip side, if sleepiness is desired, anecdotal records point that weed can indeed be a beneficial sleeping aid.