Welcome to the second* installment of our latest series all about sleep and cannabis. In today’s episode we dive into the importance of nighttime rituals that involve winding down with weed, and offer some expert advice re: finding the best bedtime strain for you. So without further ado, cuddle up and give our latest sleep series episode a listen!
*If you haven’t listened to “Sleep 101: Why Better Sleep Starts with Cannabis,” we’d suggest giving that episode a listen first for some helpful background!
Episode 77: Sativa, Indica, Hybrid: What They Really Mean
Physiology, Glucose Metabolism, Assessment of Patterns of Potentially Unsafe Use of Zolpidem, Health Effects of Long Term Sleeping Pill Use, Understanding the Side Effects of Sleeping Pills, Insomnia, Cannabis Tolerance, Insomnia by Mayo Clinic, Sleep Basics, The Effects of Cannabinoid Administration on Sleep, Cannabis for Sleep: Short Term Benefit, Long Term Disruption?
Ellen Lee Scanlon (00:00):
This podcast discusses cannabis and is intended for audiences 21 and over.
Ujin Kim (00:06):
I love to understand how people like to experience cannabis in the sense of, if it’s smoking, then that’s great. Do you have like a nighttime ritual where you could smoke a little bit and then get into skincare? And then during skin care, you are relaxing your body through these different smells and aromatherapy and kind of massaging your face, where that allows your body to kind of tune into like, “Hey, it’s time to go to sleep now.”
Ellen Lee Scanlon (00:36):
Welcome to How to Do the Pot, a podcast demystifying cannabis for women. I’m Ellen Scanlon. You just heard from Ujin Kim, a California-based creative strategist, talking about how cannabis helps with her sleep. And welcome to the second episode in our Sleep 101 series. If you haven’t yet, I recommend listening to part one, where we talk with experts about the different stages of sleep, how dreams are affected by cannabis and why edibles with THC and CBD are helping so many women get a restful night’s sleep.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (01:15):
Today’s episode is all about how cannabis can get you in the mood to snooze. So turn down the lights, pour yourself a cup of tea and snuggle up and get ready for everything you need to know about cannabis and sleep. Getting in the mood to snooze is something that looks different for everyone. For my three year old, getting ready for bed means having a bath, reading stories, but bedtime is something you never really grow out of, even if you might grow out of reading, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (01:52):
Our nightly rituals are a critical component for both our bodies and our minds, and are an essential way to get in the mood to go to sleep. And before we dive into what works best for sleep, let’s first talk about what doesn’t work. There are all kinds of things that can keep you up at night. And some of the most common are stress, anxiety and grief. A looming deadline at work, a disappointment with a friend or even a sad movie, can all be the reason you’re not able to get to sleep. But there might be more physiological things going on too, like your circadian rhythm. Sandra Guynes, a California-based nurse, explains more.
Sandra Guynes (02:40):
That we have a circadian rhythm, which is like our wake sleep cycle. And so most of us, we wake up at 7:00 AM and then we go to sleep at 11 o’clock, it’s my time. But we go to sleep at a certain time and we wake up at a certain time and our body is adjusted to that circadian rhythm.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (02:57):
Your circadian rhythm is your body’s natural way of getting ready to go to sleep. And to understand what it is exactly, let’s dig into some science. The wake sleep cycle is guided by what’s thought of as a central conductor, which is called the super key asmatic nucleus. It is a grouping of thousands of neurons in your brain that allow your body to regulate things like temperature, hormone levels, metabolism, and of course, sleep. The circadian rhythm is an evolutionary tool that our bodies use to fall asleep. And it’s been around long before there was a smart phone beside your bed, and even way before electricity. So it makes sense that screens and bright lights could throw it off. Here’s exactly how it works.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (03:50):
Your body uses natural signals to impact your sleep schedule. For example, when the optic sensors in your eyes detect sunlight, your circadian rhythm tells you that it’s time to wake up or that it’s time to be awake. That’s why using your phone right before bed or in the middle of the night can make it hard to go to sleep. When the sun starts to set and there’s less light in your optic sensors, your body starts producing the hormone melatonin, which makes you feel drowsy. This is why you might crave a five o’clock caffeine boost in the winter, but in the summer you might have more natural energy.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (04:31):
There are a lot of other lifestyle-related things that can also affect your circadian rhythm, maybe work nights, travel often to different time zones, take certain medications. Or if you’re a woman, your menstrual cycle can throw it off. The female hormone cycle, including your period, pregnancy and menopause can affect your circadian rhythm and make it difficult for your body to sleep. You’ve heard me talk about the challenges with my period due to endometriosis. And in addition to monthly pain, I wake up, almost without fail, in the middle of the night on the second or third night of my period, every single cycle. And if this sounds familiar or you experience a type of restless sleep that doesn’t last through the whole night, you’re in luck because the third episode in our Sleep 101 series will talk all about how to stay asleep. But for now know that your hormonal cycle can be a contributing factor to sleeplessness.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (05:40):
We all have those nights here and there, where we toss and turn, but when not sleeping becomes more common than sleeping, that’s when you know that your circadian rhythm is off. This experience is then labeled insomnia. And it’s very common. About 70 million Americans experience sleep disorders every year. And between 30 to 50% of the adult population experience symptoms of insomnia. So if you’re having a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep, or you’re not having restful sleep, you are not alone. And that’s why we are here to help. I spoke with Stacy Zeal, the Maryland-based host of the High On Self Care podcast about her insomnia.
Stacy Zeal (06:27):
So I have had insomnia for as long as I can remember. And so I remember I was driving to work one day after just another night of not getting any sleep. I was driving to work, a normal Tuesday or whatever day, and I fell asleep driving. And it was very scary, it was something that I still can kind of remember how it feels because it was just my body, like literally did something that it wasn’t supposed to do. I lost control of my body for a minute. And to me, that was a huge wake-up call. And so I decided to take it as that.
Stacy Zeal (07:03):
And so I was trying sleeping pills and they worked great for like about a week and a half. And then about a week and a half in, I started to notice that they weren’t working as well. I was waking up in the middle of the night. I was having trouble falling asleep again. And then after two weeks, they just completely stopped working. It was like I was just taking a pill and just laying there. So I called the doctor and he said, “Oh yeah, that’s normal. People tend to build up a tolerance to sleeping pills. I recommend you take them for two weeks and then not take them for two weeks.” And then I’m just like, “Okay. So I’m supposed to sleep great for two weeks and then not sleep at all for two weeks? That doesn’t really sound like a solution to my problem.”
Ellen Lee Scanlon (07:39):
In our first Sleep 101 episode, we talked about the difference between cannabis and prescription sleep aids, but we didn’t go into tolerance to medication. Studies show that you can, and most likely will build up a tolerance to prescription sleep aids if you are taking them every day, which is why they are usually reserved for occasional use, or why dosages need to constantly increase. And then the repeated use becomes relatively unsafe. The Food and Drug Administration, the FDA, and the Drug Safety Coalition, both really recommend sleep aids for short term use, because they can have a loss of efficacy and they also may result in serious side effects over time.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (08:25):
A lot of people think that cannabis tolerance is affected by your body weight, but since cannabis bonds directly with your body’s endocannabinoid system, which remembers a system like your nervous system or your cardiovascular system. Cannabis tolerance really is different for everyone and it’s not related to body mass. We talked more about the endocannabinoid system in our first Sleep 101 episode. Check that out if you need a refresher or you can visit the show notes or our website, dothepot.com.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (08:56):
Because of the way that cannabis is absorbed by the body, tolerance levels are affected differently. Like other substances, genetics have a large impact on your cannabis tolerance. How frequently you consume cannabis will also play a role. But unlike prescription medication, your brain doesn’t build up a tolerance to cannabis in the way that it can with prescriptions. But it does build up the ability to moderate its effects. Essentially your brain can prepare to feel high. So the more frequently that you consume cannabis, the more ready your brain is to feel its effects, which is what can decrease the potency of the high for heavy and frequent cannabis consumers. But, and here is why we call this a magical plant, if you choose to consume cannabis as a sleep aid, your body and brain will actually use this as a part of your circadian rhythm to help you fall asleep night after night. As your brain kind of predicts the effects of the cannabis, you’ll start to become sleepy and feel ready for bed.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (10:09):
So now that you know how it works, let’s talk about how cannabis can help you fall asleep fast. I spoke with Ujin Kim about setting an evening routine to help improve your sleep.
Ujin Kim (10:20):
You need to know what is your current pattern, really understand, like what’s the sleep-wake pattern that you’re currently on, as well as what are you eating throughout that day that’s going to cause your body to go to sleep better, or not go to sleep at all because you just ate hot Cheetos at like midnight and your body is processing that. So you might not go to sleep until 2:00 AM. So I’ll maybe cook with cannabis in the beginning of the evening, and that will kind of get me in the sort of mood to really start my nightly laying down process or ritual. Do you have like a nighttime ritual where you could smoke a little bit and then get into skincare? And then during skincare, you are kind of relaxing your body through these different smells and aromatherapy and kind of massaging your face, where that allows your body to kind of tune into like, “Hey, it’s time to go to sleep now.”
Ellen Lee Scanlon (11:19):
Setting an evening routine is one of the most powerful tools that helps ensure that you can fall asleep fast. Relaxing in a bath or during your skincare routine is a great way to start putting your mind at ease after a long day. Sleep experts say that meditating or journaling are also really helpful ways to release the pressures of your day. And I know it might be hard to stop scrolling on your phone or to not binge your favorite show, but putting down screens 30 minutes before bed can really help those optic sensors in your eyes trigger your circadian rhythm and get you ready for bed.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (12:00):
But what if you need a little more help than that? Let’s talk about cannabis flower. If you’re not used to the word, it’s what used to come in the weed baggy, the dried plant. It can be rolled into joints or smoked through a dryer vape pen, a pipe, a bong, and you’ll feel the effects within a few minutes. I think smoking flower is a fun reminder that cannabis is a plant and that expert growers all over the world have been cultivating it for its specific effects. My favorite tip for finding the weed that will work best with your body is super low tech, smell it. If you like the smell, you’ll probably like how it makes you feel. Stacy Zeal shares how she approaches smoking cannabis flower for sleep.
Stacy Zeal (12:52):
I find that, sometimes when I’ll smoke flower to help me fall asleep and to help me start to relax my mind, remove some of that anxiety, because there’s a lot of anxiety that you have, or at least that I have, coming from a long time of not being able to sleep. I still sometimes have to be in my head like, “Stacy, this has worked for five years. It’s okay. You know it works. Just relax.” Or it’s like, “This strain is just not great for sleep. Let me make sure I remember just not to smoke this before sleep and that’s okay.” So the THC really helps to calm that anxiety that I have about going to sleep.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (13:25):
Incorporating flower into your bedtime routine has helped many women fall asleep fast. Unlike edibles, which can take one to two hours to feel, the effects of smoking are really fast. I recommend starting with one or two puffs and then wait 20, 30 minutes to see how you feel as the effects are setting in. Ask yourself, do you feel relaxed? Do you feel a little sleepy, or do you feel more uplifted? That awareness is a really important step toward finding the right weed for you and you’ll feel those effects really quickly when you smoke.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (14:05):
But you may be asking, “Smoke what?” This is the question I get all the time, “What strain is best for sleep?” And as much as I would love to give you the most perfect strain for your best night of sleep, as with so much in cannabis, it’s more complicated than that. You may have heard the term sativa, indica and hybrid, to describe different types of cannabis. On episode 77, we went into a lot more detail about these terms and I’ll link to it in the show notes. Here’s a recap from Lo Friesen, a Washington State-based chemist and the CEO of Halo Cannabis. She explains why these classifications exist and their limitations.
Lo Friesen (14:53):
What we understand today as indica, sativa and hybrid, is purely like a language that we use as a community to communicate what we want out of the product. So indica tells me that somebody’s looking for something to like chill them out or help them go to sleep or be like a heavy body high. Whereas a sativa, tells me that somebody’s looking for something like really energetic, and then a hybrid is like a balanced experience. So if we’re saying like, “I want an indica,” well, the chemical profile of the plant is what’s actually going to give you the end experience. And because we’ve crossbred so many times, you could end up asking for an indica that ends up making you feel the opposite of what you wanted. I actually experienced that myself multiple times, like these categories, like I understand why people want to use them and how it’s the ability to communicate what we’re looking for. But because of all these changes to these plants over time, hundreds and hundreds of years, it does not translate to the same thing anymore.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (15:59):
I know that a lot of you are looking for someone to just tell you the best weed to buy for sleep. But the truth is that my recommendation might not work for you. So that’s why I want to give you some really good tips that will help you get a lot closer to finding the perfect flower for your sleep schedule. In our episode 87 called, the Secret History of Cannabis Strains, I talked about the original cannabis strains that existed in the world, which are called landrace strains.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (16:32):
One of the original landrace strains is called Afghani. It originated in Central Asia where it grew in the Hindu Kush mountains, which are near Afghanistan and Pakistan. This strain is also sometimes called Afghan Kush, a signal that it is part of the Kush family of cannabis strains. It delivers a deeply relaxed full-body high with mood-enhancing mental effects and is considered the classic indica strain. Kush strains like OG Kush, Blackberry Kush are known for helping with chronic pain, anxiety and insomnia. And they have helped many people fall asleep. Know that Afghani and any strain with the name “Kush” in it, can make you feel like you’re melting into your couch. It also might make you a little hungry. Lo Friesen helps out with some essential questions to jot down in your phone that will really help the next time you buy weed at a dispensary.
Lo Friesen (17:35):
Does it have THC in it? How much THC? Does it have CBD in it? How much CBD? How does THC and CBD interact with your body?
Ellen Lee Scanlon (17:43):
So if you’re ready to buy flower to help you sleep, remember to smell it. Ask for strains that have the word “Kush” in them, and check the amount of THC and CBD. That will really get you so many steps closer to your favorite strain. One last thing about smoking, a lot of women like vape pens because they’re discrete and you really can’t smell the smoke. And many sleep-friendly strains are available in vape pens or cartridges. If you start with cannabis flower, once you figure out the strains you like, you can easily swap a joint for a vape. And smoking comes with its own health concerns too. Dr. June Chin, a New York-based cannabis physician, talked with me about inhalation safety and the differences between smoking tobacco and smoking cannabis.
Dr. June Chin (18:37):
I think the biggest thing is people think cannabis smoke and tobacco, they just normally lump it together. But the inhalation patterns of cannabis smoking is very different than cigarette smoking. So cannabis smokers, like they hold their breath four times longer and they take in the cannabis smoke, and then that’s all they need. With tobacco, you’re sort of like this chain smoking, you’re using it throughout the day. Vaping is a safer form of inhalation than using the dried flower, unless you’re using a pen that controls the temperature. So the key when you’re using an inhaled form is a healthier draw and temperature control. You can control how much it burns from your dried flower to the vape cartridge.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (19:21):
Having control over how much burns is a good thing. Dr. Chin has a specific recommendation for the heat settings on a vape pen, and a tip for staying hydrated.
Dr. June Chin (19:30):
The studies have shown that the sweet spot is like 390 degrees. And so, a lot of these brands that you can control the temperature, you can set to 390, that when you are using smokeable version of cannabis, whether through vaporizer or dried flower, what you can also do is just like protect your mucus membranes. So maybe have some elderberry, zinc lozenges handy, chamomile tea. You can combine something like that when you’re going to use it, so that your mucus membranes stay well hydrated and not as dry.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (20:05):
And now for today’s high five, a quick recap on sleep tolerance and finding your favorite strain. And one quick thing, I would love to hear from you and find out if adding flower into your evening routine helps with your sleep challenges. If you give it a try and want to share your experience, please DM us @dothepot or send an email to hi, that’s H-I, @dothepot.com. Sharing your story about what works for you is such a great way to help other women in your shoes. And we can’t wait to hear your sleep and weed stories.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (20:41):
Back to the high five. Number one, your circadian rhythm affects how and when you fall asleep, setting a consistent bedtime and limiting screen time before bed can help you maintain a healthy wake sleep cycle. Number two, the female hormone cycle, menopause and pregnancy can all affect sleep. And it’s common to have a harder time sleeping as your bones fluctuate. Number three, a tolerance to cannabis is different than tolerance to prescription medication. As your body becomes accustomed to consuming cannabis for sleep, it can become incorporated into your circadian rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep fast. Number four, certain strains of weed are more likely to help most people with sleep issues. Look for strains with the word “Kush” and try to smell the weed before you buy it. Number five, smoking is the fastest way to consume cannabis and there are good options available if you want the fast acting relief that comes when you inhale, but you don’t want to smoke a joint.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (21:52):
This has been the second episode of our Sleep 101 series. Stay tuned for our next episode where we’ll cover how to stay asleep all night long. Please reach out with any questions to H-I, firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us @dothepot. Thanks to our writer, Melia Graska and our producers, Madi Fair, and Nick Patri. I’m Ellen Scanlon and stay tuned for more of How To Do The Pot.