Psychedelics Want To Win Over The Sleep Aid Market

Everyone wants a good night’s sleep. There are multiple over-the-counter pharmaceuticals for sleep assistance, most with side effects such as dizziness and headaches, and other physical unpleasantries. 

Cannabis has seemingly cornered the sleep market for those exploring alternative sleep strategies with a plant-based option, as more CBD and THC products are marketed and sold specifically for help with sleep. For example, Plus Products (OTC: PLPRF) has two products specifically marketed toward aiding sleep with varying levels of THC included. 

The thinking is that yes, cannabis will certainly make you sleepy, specifically any indica strain. But is it helpful for your psychological well-being and your sleep/wake cycle? Can you keep taking it for sleep? Data to prove those points is a bit dodgy—research on sleep and cannabis is in its infancy, one study added, and has “yielded mixed results.”

While studies indicate that cannabis may hold promise for REM sleep behavior disorder and excessive daytime sleepiness, and may reduce nightmares associated with PTSD, the study of sleep and cannabis has been plagued by error and bias, according to one study, with no hard and fast conclusions drawn except to note that there does not appear to be a consistent effect on total sleep time. “These results are consistent with one interpretation that cannabis is typically not beneficial to sleep except among medicinal cannabis users who are identified by the presence of pre-existing sleep interrupting symptoms such as pain,” the study concluded. 

Another study found that cannabis helped people who had chronic pain issues sleep, but that use of cannabis overtime did not have the same effect. There is even a concern that cannabis consumption is associated with an increased likelihood of developing bipolar disorder, perhaps because of interactions of THC with sleep/wake circadian rhythm cycles.

Sleep disturbance is strongly associated with the development and maintenance of many common psychological disorders, including depression. Researchers have discovered that the need for sleep increases more slowly during wakefulness and so is chronically low in depressed patients. It is unclear whether sleep changes in depression represent disease symptoms or adaptive mechanisms to help handle the depressive state. Acute sleep deprivation oddly enough creates an anti-depressive effect that typically relapses after subsequent sleep occurs, according to research. “There is a clear need for a large scale, longitudinal and well-controlled study on the specific effects of cannabinoids on sleep,” a study concluded.

Now researchers are looking at psychedelics as a potential aid for sleeping. In a recent study published in Translational Psychiatry in February 2022, electrophysiological recordings were collected from mice to track sleep-wake architecture and cortical activity after psilocin injection. The mice had delayed REM sleep onset, and no long-term changes in sleep-wake quantity were found.

Psilocin-affected mice spent a significant amount of time in their nests, adopting a posture compatible with sleep, but still apparently awake according to electrophysiological measurements. Rest in these animals was frequently disturbed by small body movements, such as stretches and readjustments of posture, and often the eyes remained open even while motionless.

What researchers concluded is that the modulation of REM sleep is a core mechanism of the psychological benefits of psychedelics, although it remains possible that the underlying brain activity of REM sleep is affected in a more subtle way.

Psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin provide a novel approach to studying the basic science of sleep regulation, offering a means to manipulate the content of wakefulness and associated brain dynamics, the February 2022 study concurred. Psychedelic stimulation offers important advantages compared to other manipulations of waking brain activities because of its relative simplicity, physiological validity, translatability to humans, and comprehensibility in terms of the associated conscious experience.

So, bottom line, the jury is out on how helpful psychedelics is for sleep control. Research with psychedelics and sleep essentially is no further along than similar research with cannabis for sleep.

From the clinical perspective, sleep represents an overlooked aspect of physiology to understanding how psychedelic-mediated mechanisms yield psychological benefits, according to the February, 2022 study

But this study using psilocybin for sleep is just another way that psychedelics are helping scientists understand the full range of its benefits. “Although many essential questions remain, a consistent picture of psychedelic biology is gradually forming, carrying the great potential to inform neuroscience in areas spanning basic neurobiology to clinical practice.”

Dave Hodes

David Hodes is a business journalist based in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. He has contributed feature articles to several cannabis and psychedelics publications, as well as general business/lifestyle publications, on a variety of topics. Hodes was selected as 2018 Journalist of the Year by Americans for Safe Access. He is a member of the National Press Club, and the deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.

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