Many people with depression and anxiety perceive that cannabis has a positive impact on their sleep, according to new research published in BMC Psychiatry.
The authors of the new study say that the findings highlight the need for placebo-controlled trials to investigate whether cannabinoids can help to alleviate insomnia symptoms.
Sleep dysfunction is a common symptom of mental illnesses and it can be very distressing for the person suffering from it. Consequently, sleep disruption can worsen symptoms of depression, leaving people in a difficult-to-escape cycle. Despite the high prevalence of this issue, interventions to treat insomnia are limited.
Cannabis has grown in popularity in recent years for its therapeutic benefits, including as a sleep aid. Previous research has been mixed on whether cannabis helps to improve sleep and anxiety or if results are from other variables being studied in previous research. This study aims to test if cannabis actually provides sleep benefits for people with depression and/or anxiety.
Study author Nirushi Kuhathasan and colleagues examined data from 100 participants with depression, 463 participants with anxiety, and 114 participants with both. Participants were tracked from February 2017 to February 2020. Participants used an app where they recorded their insomnia symptoms as well as details of their cannabis use. Additionally, participants entered demographic information. Participants shared specifics of what type of cannabis they were using in what form and dosage. After their use, they would rate their symptoms again.
Results showed that CBD-dominant and indica strains were most commonly used throughout sessions to manage insomnia in participants with depression. Indica and indica hybrid strains were most common in participants with anxiety or both depression and anxiety. Most participants used cannabis in the dried flower form.
Cannabis seemed to significantly help participants in the depression condition who were under 45 years old but was not very effective for the 45+ age group. For participants in the anxiety condition, cannabis use seemed to help symptoms across all ages, with the 35-44 age group reporting more benefits than the 25-34 group. In the comorbidity group of participants with both anxiety and depression, cannabis was beneficial for all ages.
But the study has some limitations. Firstly, this data relied on self-report diagnoses of depression, anxiety, or both, meaning that participants may not meet a threshold of having a mental illness. Additionally, symptoms, usage, and benefits were all self-report as well, which lends itself to potentially not gathering accurate information. It is also possible that the findings are the result of the placebo effect.
“Despite its limitations, this study is strengthened by its large, naturalistic sample. Individuals were also prompted to record cannabis use in their daily environments, maximizing ecological validity of the study. As such, large mobile health studies of this sort are considerably more convenient and provide real-time information,” the researchers said. “Although in real life many people report using cannabis use for depression, anxiety and sleep, this area of research is still relatively scarce. As such, results from the naturalistic study can provide a better understanding of cannabis usage profiles for insomnia, while providing valuable information for future trials designed to evaluate efficacy and safety of cannabis for therapeutic purposes.”