Sleep Apnea and Medical Marijuana

Sleep Apnea and Medical Marijuana

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Sleep disturbances are more than just a nuisance. Poor sleep does more than leaving you feeling tired and unrested as you go about your day — it can drastically impact your overall health. For those with obstructive sleep apnea, you’re likely aware of treatment options such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, tongue-retaining devices, mouth guards, and other dental devices.

 But did you know that medical marijuana is being used as an alternative treatment option for obstructive sleep apnea in certain states, such as Minnesota?

Does marijuana provide relief for those with sleep apnea? ApneaMed dives into the details below and answers your questions about medical marijuana as a treatment for sleep apnea.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that causes you to experience breathing disturbances throughout the night when the back of your throat collapses during sleep. The collapsing of the soft tissues within the throat causes a blockage of the airway, making it difficult to breathe. As a result, you may gasp or choke for air while attempting to reopen your airway. This sleep deprivation to the brain prevents you from reaching a deep sleep throughout the night, which causes you to feel unrested during the day and can cause long-term health problems.

In most cases, an individual with sleep apnea isn’t aware of the sleep disorder until a partner or another person points out that they were snoring, grunting, gasping, or choking throughout the night. While continuous positive airway pressure therapy is the most commonly recommended treatment plan for obstructive sleep apnea, those with mild or moderate conditions may be able to alleviate their symptoms with alternative treatment methods, such as medical marijuana.

Medical Marijuana as Treatment for Sleep Apnea

When sleep apnea goes untreated, it leads to significant health problems, including stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, obesity, migraines, and more. Although breathing devices such as CPAP machines can provide some relief for the individual, there has been an increased desire for alternative treatment options for mild to moderate cases of sleep apnea. With this in mind, there has been an increase in research looking at how medical marijuana can treat obstructive sleep apnea to promote regular breathing during the night.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois in 2002 discovered that medical marijuana improved the breathing patterns in rats with sleep apnea. Following this study, there was a human trial done in 2013 to look at how humans reacted to medical marijuana as a treatment for sleep apnea and found an improvement in the reduction of sleep apnea symptoms. Although these studies are still in the early stages, researchers believe there is promising evidence that medical marijuana can alleviate sleep apnea symptoms in patients with mild to moderate conditions.

Following these promising study results of fewer episodes of shallow breathing and apneas throughout the night, the Minnesota Department of Health approved medical cannabis to treat sleep apnea in 2017.

American Academy of Sleep Medicine - Medical Cannabis Sleep Apnea Treatment

As of 2018, additional studies have been conducted to identify if and how medical cannabis can help patients with OSA. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine published this abstract discussing the impact of cannabis of respiratory stability. It is difficult to determine the long-term impact cannabis has on sleep apnea and quality of sleep as it is not currently regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Due to the lack of regulation, and widespread difference in synthetic cannabis, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) does not currently recommend using medical cannabis for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea.

Testing and Treatment for Sleep Apnea

It is important for patients to meet with their medical provider to discuss the best sleep apnea treatment, and discuss medications that are currenting being used, or plan to be used in the future. While medical marijuana is beneficial for many health problems, testing cannabis for sleep apnea is still relatively new and further research is still underway. 

Proper sleep apnea testing is necessary for the purchase and correct use of CPAP machines. Contact ApneaMed to learn more about at-home sleep apnea testing for patients and providers.

With ApneaMed’s home sleep test, a board-certified sleep physician will analyze your results, who will determine the proper form of treatment. If you’re interested in a self-administered sleep apnea test from ApneaMed, contact our team to learn more.

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