Why Does Smoking Cannabis Make You Feel Tired?
Several studies could point towards a more complex link between cannabis and the feeling of tiredness experienced after smoking.
Every regular cannabis smoker has experienced drowsiness, lethargy, or a general lack of motivation after or while smoking weed. Many will shrug this off as the nature of a specific strain, while some may find these attributes desirable—especially if insomnia is an issue. Newly published research may point to excessive cannabis consumption as a cause of long-term feelings of drowsiness or laziness. For those choosing to use recreational cannabis to avoid the hangover or comedown of other drugs, this strategy may prove somewhat ineffective.
DOES SMOKING WEED MAKE YOU LAZY?
A strong indica strain will undoubtedly knock you down onto the sofa, where, let’s be honest, not a lot gets done. For a vast majority, this is a desirable trait, and the reason users choose indica strains to begin with. If you enjoy smoking cannabis and live an otherwise active lifestyle, then smoking will not suddenly make you lazy or lethargic for the long-haul. The answer to why marijuana makes us feel drowsy and in turn, less motivated, could actually come down to the way THC is absorbed and subsequently interacts with the neurotransmitter dopamine.
IS THC TO BLAME?
Published by The National Institute For Biotechnology Information, the following research points to an apparent reduction in dopamine levels as a result of excessive cannabis use. In summary, the study found that heavy smokers of cannabis, those who were borderline dependent, produced significantly less dopamine than that of non-smokers or light users.
Using a sample group of 19 frequent cannabis smokers and 19 non-smokers, this study stands out because, although similar tests have been undertaken before, none have included active smokers. Importantly, the frequent cannabis smokers had all admitted to suffering from psychotic-like symptoms when smoking, a sign of excessive use.
Michael Bloomfield, PhD stated that “After a period of time, your brain cells aren’t able to make as much tyrosine hydroxylase, an important enzyme that’s a key component in making dopamine”.
This stunting of chemical processes is a result of the way the cannabinoid THC interacts with our body’s natural endocannabinoid system.
WHY IS DOPAMINE IMPORTANT?
With heavy THC consumption seemingly impacting dopamine levels, what does the release of dopamine mean to our bodies? Dopamine acts as a regulator for effort threshold—how much effort is required to complete a task and what the rewards are. Those with higher levels of dopamine are more likely to undertake functions that require energy. Dopamine also plays a role in giving us that “rewarding” feeling when taking part in pleasurable activities like sex, eating, and exercise. If the level of dopamine released during these activities is reduced, then it stands to reason that motivation to perform would also decrease.
ARE TERPENES AS IMPORTANT AS CANNABINOIDS?
Cannabis is a complex organism. Alongside key cannabinoids THC, CBD, and CBN, cannabis contains terpenes. These molecules provide the vast array of aromas we have come to love. More than that though, theorists suggest that terpenes work in unison with cannabinoids to boost or enhance the relative effect.
A 2011 study examined the impact of the terpene myrcene. Myrcene is known for giving cannabis a musky, mango-like aroma. Furthermore, myrcene was found to induce a hypnotic effect, as well as display muscle-relaxant properties. Combined with THC, these two compounds work in conjunction to make individuals feel tired. Previous studies have found similar attributes with the terpene linalool, although this time, linalool partnered with CBD to produce a drowsy effect.
DOES CANNABIS IMPACT HOW WELL WE SLEEP?
Playing a potential role in reducing dopamine levels, what else can smokers expect THC to impact? Well, the answer may reside in the land of Nod. Anecdotal evidence from users would suggest we sleep better after smoking cannabis. Many have reported that we sleep so much better that the feeling of drowsiness can be hard to shake the morning after. With so many swearing by cannabis as a sleep aid, what scientific research is there to support this thesis?
Two studies, the first conducted in 1975 and more recently in 2004, delivered relatively inconclusive results. Both noted a decrease in REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep phase), but our deep sleep phase remained roughly the same. It could be surmised that a reduction in REM sleep could result in the feeling of increased tiredness experienced the morning after smoking cannabis.
Both investigations have something in common—the vast number of variables yet to be explored. The results are still too inconclusive to draw a satisfactory conclusion. Instead, further studies will be needed, in which sample size, age of participants, strains smoked, and any previous medical issues, etc are taken into account. One thing is for sure; there does seem to be some correlation between smoking cannabis and the feeling of tiredness. The exact cause of this phenomenon is still unknown.
HOW TO COUNTERACT TIREDNESS AFTER SMOKING
What does that mean for us? Well, for now, the usual rules apply. Enjoy cannabis as you usually would, while being aware that every user will experience symptoms differently. If you do find yourself having periods of drowsiness or lethargy the morning after smoking cannabis, then a few simple steps can be taken to counteract this.
These include selecting a strain with less THC, smoking less, and hydrating. And of course, exercise, a healthy diet, and good ole coffee can help shake the fatigue as well; be it a result of smoking weed or not.Numerous users will have experienced drowsiness when smoking cannabis. Is this a natural reaction, or is there a long-term impact on our bodies?
Ask Miss Grass: How to *Not* Fall Asleep After Smoking Weed?
Photo by Stocksy
Staying woke while you smoke could come down to what you toke—but it may have a lot to do with more psychological factors as well.
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Dear Miss Grass,
I have a weird problem. Smoking weed makes me *super* sleepy. Like, my eyelids get immediately heavy and I pretty much just have to go to bed. I know that doesn’t sound terrible, but TBH it actually sucks. I’d love to enjoy weed the way my friends do—deep thoughts, fun giggles, sexy vibes—but even sativa makes me completely pass out! What’s a weed-girl wannabe to do?
Sleepy Head in Venice, CA
Don’t beat yourself up! That’s really not such a weird problem: Falling asleep after smoking weed is really common; cannabis—and specifically the cannabinoid CBN—is celebrated for its calm-enhancing and sleep-inducing properties, and there’s a whole lot of people who use it solely for that. And, because everyone has a unique biochemistry that reacts to individual substances differently, it’s also not surprising that some people, such as yourself, might experience the sleepy effects of cannabis more strongly than others. Miss Grass personally has more than a handful of buds who share this same conumdrum.
Eliminating shame, stigma, and expectations from the equation is really, really important when it comes to consciously and safely consuming any psycho-active substance.
So, at the very least—and before we get into what to do—please take heart in the fact that you’re certainly not alone and it’s definitely not “weird.” Eliminating shame, stigma, and expectations from the equation is really, really important when it comes to consciously and safely consuming any psycho-active substance. We’ll get more into that in a bit.
But first, let’s talk about why you want to get high without passing out immediately. You mentioned some of the reasons—deep thoughts, fun giggles, sexy vibes—and they’re all good ones. Here are a few personal favorites of mine, just for kicks: an enhanced feeling of whole-ness and connection, increased bodily awareness, more compassion and self-acceptance, and sometimes, even more energy and an enhanced ability to focus. (And, of course, there’s all the potential ways cannabis might help soothe certain physical ailments, too.) So, yeah, it totally makes sense that you’d want to experience any and all of that. Life is short, and, as long as you’re not using cannabis thoughtlessly—and it doesn’t sound like that’s your intention, SH—it can definitely be one of the most magical natural experiences on earth.
Life is short, and, as long as you’re not using cannabis thoughtlessly, it can definitely be one of the most magical natural experiences on earth.
However, as we all know, wanting to experience something and actually being able to are two very separate things. There is a such thing as science after all (contrary to what some people in the current administration think)—and the science of the body can be a fickle mistress indeed; just ask anyone who’s tried to shed a few unwanted pounds or kick an addiction. Shit’s complicated. Metabolisms. Homeostasis. Etcetera etcetera.
When it comes to cannabis and sleep, the science, in a nutshell, is this: cannabinoids and terpenes interact with the endocannabinoid receptors in our brains, causing us to react in certain ways depending on our own biochemistry. “ THC can be helpful in calming down the activity in the frontal cortex—which can be helpful for people whose mind can’t slow down, ” says Samantha Miller, chief scientist at Pure Analytics. Introducing THC to your particular brain, SH—if you’re the type who likes to make a lot of lists and can’t stop thinking—sounds like it may be fully allowing you to relax, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But that isn’t what you always want, so Miller recommends experimenting with a “ CBD-dominant cannabis for a mood shift without drowsiness. ”
It may take a bit of experimentation to find out what works best with your individual biochemistry. Practicing doesn’t just apply to getting good at the piano or surfing, you know?
And, it turns out that the amount of CBD in a strain can really make a difference—maybe more so than if the cannabis you consume is sativa or indica. But it may take a bit of experimentation to find out what works best with your individual biochemistry. For example, in some studies, high CBD has been shown to help induce sleep, while low dose CBD can actually have stimulant effects. You mentioned you’ve tried sativa. It’s definitely true that sativa is marketed as being more stimulating than indica, but assuming that any indica will calm stress and any sativa will lift your spirits is not a good idea because a lot of other variables can come into play—like the terpenes and other cannabinoids in the strain.
Plus, some experts also think that it may take a several consumption sessions to get your endocannabinoid receptors turned on and working full throttle. If that ’s true, that means the more times you consume, the better at experiencing and parsing out the desired effects you ’ll get. Practicing doesn’t just apply to getting good at the piano or surfing, you know? There ’s a reason some so-called “ stoners ” are so high functioning—they “practiced” a lot and figured out what works for them.
If all this sounds like a whole lot of conflicting info, that’s understandable. Bottom line is there just isn’t a ton of research into why people react to smoking weed differently than others and there are no hard and fast rules. But you know what there is more research on? A little thing called set and setting. And, for what it’s worth, I personally suspect that set and setting might be just as important as—if not more important than—a substance’s chemical properties.
Set and setting might be just as important as—if not more important than—a substance’s chemical properties.
The phrase, which was coined in the ’ 60s by one of the most important pioneers in psychedelic therapy, Timothy Leary, refers to how the combination of two factors— the mental state you bring to the experience, like thoughts, mood, and expectations (set); and the physical and social environment that the experience actually occurs in (setting)— can influence a psychedelic experience for better or worse . And more recent research also suggests that set and setting can completely change how a person experiences a substance. (Just google the placebo effect to go down that rabbit hole.)
SH, you didn’t mention how many times you’ve smoked weed or in what situations, but I highly recommend keeping set and setting in mind next time you consume. Not to over simplify, but if you expect to fall asleep every time you consume weed, you may actually be setting yourself up to do just that. Self-fulfilling prophesy, right? So, set some new intentions for your experience and make sure to put yourself in a setting that isn’t your usual smoking situation. Changing up the time of day, the place you smoke, the people you smoke with, what you’re doing while you smoke (some people even like to toke and work out!) and even what you’re wearing can have a bigger effect than you may realize. (There ’s a reason shamans make everyone wear white before a ceremony! This stuff matters.)
Cannabis and other psycho-active substances lift the veil of everyday consciousness, which has the potential to bring thoughts, memories, and feelings to the surface that, for whatever reason, you may not be willing to deal with.
Also, perhaps most importantly, know this: because cannabis (and other psycho-active substances) lift the veil of everyday consciousness, it has the potential to bring thoughts, memories, and feelings to the surface that, for whatever reason, you may not be willing to deal with. It’s completely possible that, without you even realizing it, your ego or intellect isn ’ t allowing you to be fully present to the entire cannabis experience, and therefore sleepiness is the main thing you feel. (This may also be why some people feel more anxious or paranoid after smoking weed.) It ’ s sort of like a physiological, self-protective cock block, if you will. It may be worth exploring (ideally with the help of a therapist) why that may be—especially if there’s past trauma in your life you haven’t fully dealt with.
Because, ultimately, facing challenging thoughts and uncomfortable feelings is precisely what makes smoking weed and using other psychotropics so healing—and why they’ve become the basis for a lot of really promising types of new treatments and therapies in the realms of PTSD and depression. Dealing with those types of feelings with assistance allows us to move past them so we can fully enjoy everything else in our lives—including the full effects of cannabis, if that ’ s what we choose.
In Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience, he emphasizes the importance of surrendering to the substance: “whenever in doubt, turn off your mind, relax, float downstream,” he writes. He was referring to LSD, of course, but there’s no reason that advice can’t apply to smoking weed. And, fun fact, those words eventually became lyrics in The Beatles song Tomorrow Never Knows, so there you go.Not falling asleep after smoking weed could have a lot to do with psychological factors like set and setting as well and not strains. ]]>