Cannabis Compared to Typical Traditional Sleep Aids

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The increasing interest in alternative saleep aids has brought cannabis, particularly its constituents cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), into the spotlight. This guide compares the advantages and disadvantages of cannabis with traditional sleep aids such as Benadryl, Ambien, Xanax, Ativan, and Trazodone, based on scientific literature and clinical evidence.

Advantages of Cannabis for Sleep

Cannabis vs. Benadryl (Diphenhydramine)


  • Cannabis, particularly CBD, may enhance sleep quality without the severe side effects often seen with traditional sleep aids.
  • THC can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and may improve the duration of deep sleep stages.
  • Unlike many over-the-counter sleep aids, cannabis does not typically lead to a ‘hangover effect’ or grogginess the next day.
  • There’s a lower risk of long-term cognitive impairment associated with regular cannabis use for sleep.
  • Cannabis offers a broader therapeutic window, reducing the risk of overdose that can be seen with other sleep aids.


  • Benadryl is an antihistamine that can induce sleepiness, making it useful for occasional sleep disturbances.
  • However, its sedative effects can lead to next-day drowsiness and cognitive impairment.
  • Long-term use is associated with an increased risk of dementia and other memory issues.
  • It may not be suitable for the elderly or those with certain pre-existing conditions due to its anticholinergic effects.
  • Tolerance can develop, reducing its effectiveness over time.
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Unlock the world of medical cannabis with The Doctor-Approved Cannabis Handbook.

Cannabis vs. Ambien (Zolpidem)


  • Cannabis is seen as a less addictive alternative to Ambien, with a lower risk of dependency.
  • It provides a natural means of improving sleep, especially for individuals with chronic insomnia.
  • Cannabis use does not typically result in complex sleep-related behaviors, a risk associated with Ambien.
  • The sleep architecture (the structure of different stages of sleep) is less likely to be disrupted with cannabis.
  • Patients using cannabis for sleep often report a more natural and restful sleep experience.


  • Ambien is a prescription medication specifically designed to combat insomnia and can be highly effective.
  • However, it’s associated with risks of sleepwalking, sleep-driving, and other complex behaviors during sleep.
  • There’s a significant risk of dependency and withdrawal symptoms, particularly with long-term use.
  • Ambien can alter sleep architecture, impacting the natural cycle of sleep stages.
  • The medication is generally not recommended for long-term use due to these risks.

Cannabis vs. Xanax/Ativan (Benzodiazepines)


  • Cannabis offers a safer profile for managing anxiety-induced insomnia, with a lower risk of addiction.
  • THC and CBD can both contribute to a more restful sleep in different ways, with THC aiding in faster sleep onset and CBD promoting relaxation.
  • Cannabis does not have the severe withdrawal symptoms that are often seen with benzodiazepines.
  • The risk of tolerance development is lower compared to benzodiazepines.
  • Cannabis use for sleep does not typically lead to rebound insomnia, a common issue with benzodiazepines.


  • These benzodiazepines are effective for short-term relief of anxiety-induced insomnia.
  • However, they come with a high risk of tolerance, meaning the body requires higher doses over time for the same effect.
  • Dependency and severe withdrawal symptoms are significant risks with benzodiazepines.
  • Long-term use can disrupt normal sleep patterns and may lead to rebound insomnia upon cessation.
  • These medications can also affect memory and cognitive function, especially in the elderly.

Disadvantages of Cannabis for Sleep

  • Side Effects: Cannabis can cause side effects like dry mouth, dizziness, and in the case of THC, potential psychoactive effects.
  • Inconsistency: The effect of cannabis on sleep can vary depending on the strain and the individual’s response to cannabinoids.
  • Legal Status: Cannabis is still not legal in many regions, which limits its accessibility compared to other sleep aids.
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Unlock the world of medical cannabis with The Doctor-Approved Cannabis Handbook.

Comparative Chart of Side Effects

Sleep AidCommon Side EffectsRisk of DependencyOnset of ActionDuration of EffectImpact on Sleep Architecture
CannabisDry mouth, dizziness, altered perceptionLower15-30 min (inhaled)2-6 hoursMinimal disruption
BenadrylDrowsiness, cognitive impairment, dry mouthLow15-60 min4-6 hoursSignificant disruption
AmbienSleepwalking, complex behaviors, dizzinessModerate-High15-30 min6-8 hoursModerate disruption
Xanax/AtivanTolerance, dependency, withdrawal symptomsHigh30-60 min4-8 hoursSignificant disruption
TrazodoneDizziness, headache, nauseaLow30-60 min5-7 hoursMinimal disruption
MelatoninHeadache, dizziness, nauseaVery Low30-60 min4-5 hoursMinimal disruption
Valerian RootHeadache, dizziness, stomach upsetVery Low30-60 min4-6 hoursMinimal disruption
LunestaUnpleasant taste, headache, morning drowsinessModerate-High30-60 min6-8 hoursModerate disruption
RestorilDizziness, lightheadedness, cognitive changesModerate-High20-40 min7-8 hoursModerate disruption
DoxylamineDrowsiness, dry mouth, constipationLow30-60 min5-7 hoursSignificant disruption
RozeremDizziness, fatigue, hormonal changesLow30-60 min7-8 hoursMinimal disruption
SeroquelDrowsiness, weight gain, dry mouthModerate30-60 min6-8 hoursSignificant disruption
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  1. Cannabis: Includes both CBD and THC-based products. The onset and duration can vary significantly based on the method of consumption and individual metabolism.
  2. Traditional Sleep Aids: Many of these can affect the natural sleep cycle or REM sleep, which might lead to less restful sleep despite increased sleep duration.
  3. Herbal Remedies: Options like Valerian Root are generally considered safe with minimal risk of dependency, though scientific evidence on effectiveness varies.
  4. Prescription Medications: Medications like Ambien, Lunesta, and Seroquel are generally prescribed for short-term use due to risks of dependency and side effects.
  5. Impact on Sleep Architecture: Some sleep aids, particularly benzodiazepines and certain antihistamines, can disrupt natural sleep patterns, affecting sleep quality.


While cannabis presents a viable alternative to traditional sleep medications, its efficacy and safety profile can vary based on the individual. It’s crucial to consider the specific sleep issues, medical history, and potential interactions with other medications. Consultation with a healthcare provider, especially one familiar with cannabinoid therapy, is recommended to ensure a safe and effective approach to using cannabis for sleep.

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Cover of The Doctor-Approved Cannabis Handbook featuring a green medical plus symbol
Unlock the world of medical cannabis with The Doctor-Approved Cannabis Handbook.


  1. Babson, K. A., Sottile, J., & Morabito, D. (2017). Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Sleep: a Review of the Literature. Current Psychiatry Reports.
  2. Gray, S. L., et al. (2015). Cumulative Use of Strong Anticholinergics and Incident Dementia. JAMA Internal Medicine.
  3. Russo, E. B., et al. (2007). Cannabis, Pain, and Sleep: Lessons from Therapeutic Clinical Trials of Sativex. Pain Research & Management.
  4. Kripke, D. F. (2016). Mortality Risk of Hypnotics: Strengths and Limits of Evidence. Drug Safety.
  5. Whiting, P. F., et al. (2015). Cannabinoids for Medical Use: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA.
  6. Lader, M. (2011). Benzodiazepines revisited—will we ever learn? Addiction.
  7. Gates, P. J., et al. (2014). The Effects of Cannabinoid Administration on Sleep: a Systematic Review of Human Studies. Sleep Medicine Reviews.
  8. Stahl, S. M. (2017). Stahl’s Essential Psychopharmacology.
  9. Iffland, K., & Grotenhermen, F. (2017). An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.
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