Medical Marijuana and Sleep Apnea

Written by Review Weed Cannabis & Health Enthusiast
Updated: 2023-09-28
Cannabis leaf next to a person diagnosed with sleep apnea.

Table of Contents

Sleep apnea, a widespread and potentially harmful sleep condition, impacts millions of individuals across the globe. As researchers continue to explore various treatments for this condition, the potential benefits of cannabis have gained increasing attention. In this article, we will discuss what sleep apnea is, its symptoms, and how cannabis might have a role in its treatment. It’s important to note that the research is still in its infancy, and cannabis is not yet a recommended primary treatment for sleep apnea.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition marked by recurring disruptions in breathing while asleep. Essentially, one’s breathing ceases and resumes multiple times during sleep, depriving the brain of sufficient oxygen.

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea syndrome.

Obstructive sleep apnea, the most prevalent disorder, arises when the throat muscles relax and impede air passage. This prompts the brain to rouse the individual to restart breathing, often without their awareness. Consequently, sleep quality is compromised, and various potential health issues may arise.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Some common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Gasping or choking during sleep
  • Frequent awakenings or insomnia
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mood changes, such as irritability or depression
  • High blood pressure

It is essential to consult a healthcare professional if you suspect you or a loved one may have sleep apnea, as proper diagnosis and treatment are crucial for preventing complications.

Cannabis and OSA: A summary of studies

While the scientific evidence on cannabis as a potential treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is still developing, several studies have begun to explore whether marijuana can effectively treat sleep apnea. Here, we summarise key findings from some of these studies:

  • Synthetic Cannabinoid Dronabinol: A 2013 study evaluated the effects of dronabinol, a synthetic cannabis medicine, on patients with moderate to severe OSA. The study found that dronabinol reduced the severity of sleep apnea symptoms and increased subjective sleepiness. However, the authors emphasized the need for more research and larger clinical trials to confirm these results.
  • The same was validated in another study that looked at the efficacy of dronabinol for moderate to severe OSA. With 73 participants, the study, led by David W Carley, found that a 10 mg dose of dronabinol significantly reduced the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) and improved self-reported sleepiness and overall treatment satisfaction. However, further research is needed to establish long-term efficacy and safety.
  • Cannabinoid Receptors and OSA: Research has suggested that the endocannabinoid system may regulate sleep and breathing. A 2017 review looked at whether targeting the endocannabinoid system may offer a novel approach to treating sleep apnea. However, further studies are needed to determine the best approach to modulating the endocannabinoid system for OSA treatment.

While there is some promise, the limited evidence of effectiveness is worth noting.

In fact, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has made it abundantly clear in its position statement to avoid using cannabis as one of the treatment options for sleep apnea – largely due to a shortage of evidence of safety and effectiveness.

Marijuana and sleep

While weed has been shown to help improve sleep, the results are mixed.

In the short run, responsible use of marijuana can help improve sleep quality by increasing the time spent in deep sleep, reducing REM sleep (which may be beneficial for those suffering from PTSD and nightmares), and reducing the time it takes to fall asleep.

On the other hand, the long-term effects of chronic use of cannabis include severe disruption of sleep architecture and sleep quality. Chronic use can also lead to addiction and withdrawal tendencies, where users may have difficulty falling asleep without cannabis.

You can learn more about the impact of marijuana on sleep in our detailed take on the subject.

Approved treatments for sleep apneas

A chart that shows approved treatment methods for sleep apnea.
Cannabis is not an approved treatment for apneas; please consult a doctor for the condition.

Sleep apnea treatment options range from lifestyle changes to medical interventions, including:

  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy: A machine delivering constant airflow through a mask. If CPAP does not work for you, other airway pressure devices can help.
  • Lifestyle changes: Weight loss, regular exercise, and avoiding alcohol and sedatives can also contribute to some extent to obstructive sleep apnea management.
  • Oral appliances: Some devices can reposition the jaw and tongue to keep your throat open. Compared to CPAP, these appliances are easier to use but may not be as effective.
  • Surgical interventions: There are medical procedures that remove or reposition tissues obstructing the airway or stimulate the tongue muscles to keep the airway open.

If you believe you have sleep apnea, you should consult your medical provider or a sleep specialist for a proper diagnosis.

Depending on the severity of the condition, you may have to opt for any of the approved treatment methods. As for cannabis, it can be best thought of as a way to complement/support your healing process.

Cannabis as a treatment for sleep apnea

Owing to insufficient evidence, medical cannabis is not an approved treatment for sleep apnea disorders. That said, it may help relieve the side effects and some symptoms of apneas in patients. This is because the disorder can impact your mood and health, and cannabis may help address the same and allow you to cope with it better.

  • Patients suffering from sleep apnea may be prone to anxiety and stress, leading to poor quality of life. Due to marijuana’s anxiolytic and antidepressant effects, users may find some relief in dealing with their symptoms.
  • Similarly, cannabis can also help with chronic pain management – considering that sleep disruption and intermittent hypoxia arising from the apneas may increase the pain.

If you are considering using marijuana to help you manage the symptoms of sleep apnea, speak to your doctor beforehand so they can recommend you the best products.


While the potential use of cannabis forapnea treatment has generated interest, it is essential to emphasize that it is not currently an approved or widely accepted measure. As researchers continue to investigate its efficacy and safety, individuals suffering from apnea should speak to a doctor first.

Medical professionals can recommend treatment methods tailored to each patient’s specific needs and circumstances. Until more evidence on the benefits of cannabis for sleep apnea emerges, it is best to rely on proven treatment options and the guidance of healthcare experts.

  • Does marijuana/THC help with sleep apnea?

    There is a shortage of scientific evidence that supports the claims that marijuana can help with sleep apnea. It may help with other symptoms of the condition to allow patients to live better, but it is not an outright cure.

  • Can CBD help with sleep apnea?

    To date, there is no research that has explicitly studied the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) on sleep apneas, including its potential as a treatment method for the condition. That said, it may help relieve some of the effects and symptoms of sleep apnea on your body to improve your quality of life.

  • Does cannabis help you sleep?

    Initially, cannabis may enhance sleep quality by shortening the time needed to fall asleep and promoting deeper sleep stages. However, chronic can increase tolerance to its sedative effects over time and interfere with sleep patterns, resulting in sleep disturbances.

  • Can smoking cannabis regularly lead to sleep apnea?

    Research has shown that smoking can increase the risk of developing sleep apnea, as smoke inhalation can irritate and inflame your airways. Smoking marijuana regularly can thus contribute to the symptoms of sleep apnea.