This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)
Cannabis as treatment for sleep apnea
Medical cannabis has promise as a treatment for sleep apnea, a chronic sleep disorder. It may help process serotonin in the brain at a critical failure point. It also helps patients fall asleep quicker, sleep more deeply, and find relief from mood disturbances
Sleep apnea is a disorder where sufferers experience regular interruptions in breathing while they sleep. The name literally means “without breath” in Greek.
Patients can experience as many as 30 interruptions per hour. These breath stoppages jolt people out of deep sleep. The condition reduces the amount and quality of sleep per night.
Why? This condition affects all aspects of the sleep cycle, including both REM and non-REM stages. As a result, sufferers struggle to stay awake during the day.
Worse, there is no easy diagnosis. There is no easy “test.” 80% of those with moderate to even severe symptoms remain undiagnosed.
The good news? Cannabis appears to be able to help.
WHAT IS SLEEP APNEA?
The simplest definition is that it is a condition in which sufferers cannot get enough oxygen as they sleep. In turn, this causes them to wake up constantly at night.
There are two kinds of sleep apnea.
- Obstructive apnea: This is the most common form of the disorder. It results from a blockage of the airway. This is either a temporary collapse or blockage. The obstruction also causes the sufferer to snore and snort as the trapped air manages to escape.
- Central apnea: This is a far more serious kind of apnea. It comes from brain damage or disease. Central apnea occurs when the brain cannot coordinate with breathing muscles. This kind of apnea usually occurs in patients with underlying neurological conditions, brain damage, or those on some prescription drugs.
Men are far more likely to experience sleep apnea than women. The risk factors also increase with age. There are people with a genetic predisposition to the disorder. Health conditions like diabetes can also increase your risk of developing this condition.
When doctors diagnose the condition, they will use a variety of approaches. Sometimes they will take a physical exam. However, they will usually ask you a battery of questions. They might ask you (or a loved one) to monitor and record your sleep habits. You will be queried about sleep quality, insomnia, and the reasons for it. Doctors who suspect apnea will be looking for certain patterns.
These are also things you can start to track if you suspect you might have the symptoms of apnea.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF SLEEP APNEA?
You may not be cognisant of the symptoms as a cluster until you think about it. However, this is what to watch for:
- Chronic daytime fatigue
- Headaches as you wake up
- Restless sleep patterns
- Cognitive problems including memory loss, learning problems, or lack of concentration
- Mood swings that can range from mild irritation to depression and personality changes
- Frequently waking up during the night to use the bathroom (A recent study found that more than 84% of patients with sleep apnea make multiple nightly trips to the bathroom)
- Sore or dry mouth when waking up
- Problems swallowing
- Changes in voice inflection or tone
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness or numbness
CANNABIS AS TREATMENT FOR SLEEP APNEA
There are several conventional treatments for this condition. They include everything from surgery to lifestyle changes.
Treatment also usually includes a CPAP machine. This stands for continuous positive airway pressure. It consists of a mask connected to a machine that blows air down the windpipe to keep the airway open.
Increasingly, however, the medical community is looking at how cannabis might help those who suffer with the condition.
A 2002 study on rats with sleep apnea showed that THC promoted normal breathing. The study was based on observations that cannabis can limit the effect of serotonin in cells in the inferior ganglion of the vagus nerve. This nerve plays a major role in breathing sensations.
This finding in turn led to an extension of research in human subjects. The first THC and sleep apnea study on human subjects tested effects of different doses of THC on 17 sleep apnea patients. The study found that patients experienced an average symptom reduction of 32%.
The study also suggested that higher doses of THC can also result in better effects for patients.
Both studies have concluded that more research is desperately needed. And sadly, at the moment, most research on sleep apnea and medical marijuana is in preclinical stages.
HOW DOES MEDICAL CANNABIS HELP SLEEP APNEA SYMPTOMS?
Medical cannabis can help sufferers in several ways. Beyond potentially improving brain function, medical marijuana is well-known to help alleviate many of the immediate symptoms of apnea.
The first is deepening the quality of sleep. Even in situations where sufferers wake up in the night, those who use cannabis find such disruptions are not as frequent. And when they occur, they can also get back to sleep much easier. Cannabis can be a great relaxant. And the less anxious patients are, the faster they will go back to sleep.
Apnea patients also find that using the drug during the day can help address some of the other problems that come with the condition. These includes mood changes and irritation.
PICKING THE RIGHT CANNABIS TREATMENT FOR APNEA
Sleep apnea is a medical condition where sufferers frequently do not smoke. It irritates already strained respiratory systems. The same is true of vaping, even though medical vapes are designed to reduce any toxins released.
Edibles and topicals are the best bets for patients who have respiratory problems. If you can find them, you also might try a cannabinoid patch.
This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)