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PTSD, insomnia, and cannabis: What’s the evidence say?

May 25, 2017
According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), psychotherapy and sleep aid medications are the most common first-line treatments for solving PTSD-related insomnia. Beyond making sufferers sleepy and irritable the next day, chronic insomnia is associated with serious long-term health issues, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.

Medical marijuana is a particularly popular option for veterans who don’t want the side effects of the pharmaceutical suggestions most often used, such as sedatives like zolpidem or other drugs like clonazepam and trazodone.

Some research suggests people using medical marijuana may fall asleep easier and sleep longer.

Beyond anecdotal evidence from medical marijuana advocates who are military veterans, scientific research suggests that medical cannabis may be a promising option for treating insomnia.

Though more research is needed, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the global pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis funded a study that showed consuming THC enabled subjects to fall asleep easier and more quickly.


The best cannabis strains for sleep and insomnia

Other research has been similarly suggestive that medical marijuana may help people have an easier time falling asleep and sleep longer and better, helping facilitate deep sleep, which in turn is thought to play a vital role in the natural bodily restoration process.

To hear more about PTSD, insomnia, and medical cannabis, listen to the third episode in the Zana/Leafly insomnia podcast, “Eyes Wide Open.”


Listen to “Zana HealthLab” on Spreaker.


PTSD as a qualifying condition

While the VA says more scientific research on PTSD and medical marijuana is needed, the anecdotal evidence is strong.

Amanda Berard, a military veteran from Texas, wrote about PTSD and medical marijuana for her master’s thesis in nursing at the University of North Texas. The sexual assault Berard experienced in the Army at age 19 led to PTSD that she says led to depression and hypervigilance. In Texas, her condition is typically treated with pharmaceuticals.

“You’re given a cocktail of medication,” Berard explained in a February 2017 interview with San Antonio’s KENS5 news. “A cocktail of pharmaceutical pills. I have five or six different medications that I’m supposed to take. The prescriptions, I feel, are like a Band-Aid solution.”


Eyes Wide Open: A Podcast About Cannabis and Insomnia

Berard is now an advocate with the Texas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Like other veterans, Berard is working to try to raise awareness of the many lives that might be transformed for the better if medical marijuana were an option for veterans in all states. That’s available to veterans in many legal MMJ states—but not all. Some states do not include PTSD on their list of qualifying conditions. Berard fought to advance a medical marijuana bill in the Texas state legislature this past spring, but the bill ultimately died in mid-May.

Other states have been more progressive, although it hasn’t been without a fight. (Surprisingly, one state you’d assume would have PTSD as a qualifying condition years ago — Colorado — is only now on the verge of adding it.) PTSD is now a qualifying condition in most other jurisdictions where medical cannabis is legal.

And, that’s certainly good news for vets who find cannabis is not only more effective than prescription treatments, but safer and less addictive.

Katie Matlack's Bio Image

Katie Matlack

Katie lives in Austin, where she writes for the Texas Observer, the Austin Chronicle, Leafly, and VICE Sports.

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  • jagman

    No doubt. Tried cannabis because of severe pain and at 80 I am not about to screw my life up now with Opioids. But not knowing what to ask for and inexperienced sales people, I did not get the THC(?) but I assumed the “other” kind and did it put me to sleep. Slept like a “log”, never rolled around on the bed, just super relaxed for about 9 hours.

  • Megan Dooley Fisher

    This is a great topic

  • lovingc

    Trasadone causes RLS in me but cannabis stops it and gives me better sleep than the transadone alone.

  • Darrell Hulme

    I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2004 and took upwards of 15 prescription pharmaceuticals/day until I started bleeding internally from the damage the pills did. For sleep I was prescribed zopliclone, trazadone, clonazepam and even seroquil which is not approved for sleep yet doctors prescribe it because they know how bad these pills dope you up and knock you out. 3 years ago I switched to the much healthier and safer alternative, medical marijuana. The best thing that ever happened to me and my family who suffered for 11 years with this debilitating injury. Now I use a natural flower which has allowed me to stop taking all other pharmaceuticals. Not only are my PTSD symptoms better managed now but I’m also pharmaceutical free. I have replaced 15 man made pharmaceuticals with one naturally growing flower. That is a win, win situation. For me it’s a no brainer. I feel healthier and now I’m able to function and attend family activities instead of being over drugged on pills that never helped my PTSD symptoms anyhow. Plants not Pills!

  • tommy virden

    i have been consuming marijuana in one form or another for about 22 years now. to say i am an advocate is an understatement. i have never been diagnosed with PTSD so this may be a question for another topic but here goes. lately i have had some real issues getting to sleep. i have been taking anywhere from 30-40mg of MMJ edibles every night and it hasn’t helped me sleep at all. some nights i lie awake until 3 or 4 am. i am wondering if anyone has any suggestions for me.. non pharmaceutical and I’m not taking melatonin. should i increase my nightly dose? any help would be much appreciated.

    • innanas

      Asking a qualified bud tender would be the most helpful thing to do. They can guide you on dose and strain that would be the most helpful.

  • innanas

    Montana added PTSD for Veterans in 2016. My VA at Ft Harrison even labels the warnings not ot mix certain presciptions with alcohol and now added Marijuana.