Sleep Apnea and Medical Marijuana

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“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”- Thomas Dekker

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing stops and starts at irregular intervals. There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax, and central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. Some people may have a combination of the two called, complex sleep apnea. Individuals who suffer from sleep apnea are rarely aware of their difficulty breathing, even upon awakening.

Some major signs of sleep apnea include loud and chronic snoring, choking, snorting, or gasping during sleep, long pauses in breathing, daytime sleepiness (no matter how much time you spend in bed), insomnia, forgetfulness, morning headaches and more. If you think you might have sleep apnea, see your doctor. Treatment is necessary to avoid heart problems and other complications.

There are many different treatments to sleep apnea. Some of which are as simple as sleeping on your side or propping your head up, doing throat exercises, and changing your diet, but others can include prescription drugs, CPAP masks, and surgery.

How can cannabis help?

The journal of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, researchers at the University of Illinois Department of Medicine reported “potent suppression” of sleep-related apnea in rats administered either exogenous or endogenous cannabinoids. Investigators reported that doses of delta-9-THC and the endocannabinoid oleamide each stabilized respiration during sleep and blocked serotonin-induced exacerbation of sleep apnea in a statistically significant manner. Several recent preclinical and clinical trials have reported on the use of THC, natural cannabis extracts and endocannabinoids to induce sleep and/or improve sleep quality.

Following the positive results of this pre-clinical trial, lead author Dr. David Carley published the first human trial to investigate the effects of THC (dronabinol) on sleep apnea. The results showed an overall reduction in apnea indexes of 32%, despite significant variance between patients. Even though a 32% reduction is minor when compared to the effectiveness of current treatment options (such as CPAP and oral devices), the authors suggest that cannabinoid medications could still be of benefit to patients who suffer from mild to moderate cases of sleep apnea, and could do so in a much more natural way.

Currently, researchers are studying a synthetic cannabis based pill, called dronabinol, that might be viable, and a much less intrusive, treatment for sleep apnea if approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Originally published on www.medicalmarijuana.com on August 31, 2016.

Is Marijuana Safe During Pregnancy?

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Nausea. Anxiety. Pain. These symptoms are part of most women’s pregnancies, often defining them for the entire nine months. Since marijuana can help these symptoms, and is now legal in several states, pregnant women are starting to beg the question: Could marijuana be medically useful for the nausea, the anxiety, and the pain? But if so, would it be dangerous for my baby?

For discussion purposes, we will look at two reports.

1) A December 2015 abstract from the NIH’s PubMed.gov (under the auspices of the national biotech research center) says don’t even go there. Evidence is lacking to prove marijuana is safe during pregnancy, and all the more so, past studies indicate that marijuana could be dangerous for the fetus. Complications center around “problems with neurological development, resulting in hyperactivity, poor cognitive function, and changes in dopaminergic receptors,” the report says.

2) A report by labor support doula Pamela McColl in the homebirth midwifery Birth Institute reviewed several studies dating between 1975 and 2011, and concluded similarly to the PubMed.gov abstract, stating outright, “Marijuana use during pregnancy interrupts fetal brain development.”

While both of these reports conclude that pregnant women should not use marijuana, neither of them can say that it is 100% dangerous. The PubMed.gov report admits that studies have not been comprehensive, and the studies cited by McCall are older and do not all examine cannabis usage during pregnancy per se.

More Questions Remain

All things considered, perhaps pregnant women are missing out if marijuana could be deemed safe, in quantity and quality, for them and their babies. As a related matter on the feminine front, a recently-released cannabis product called Fiora Relief garnered viral attention for its cures for premenstrual and menstrual cramps. Stick the cannabis suppository up the vagina, and voila, those wrenchingly-heavy, stop-you-in-your-tracks uterine pangs and lower back aches are gone.

Wait a minute. Menstrual cramps are mini uterine contractions. So could this solution do the trick for the really heavy labor contractions? After all, it can also be inserted rectally. At this point it’s unlikely anyone in the conventional medical community will suggest this because the effects of a cannabis suppository, even rectally, might risk the baby getting high and affecting the heart rate. Another question is whether cannabis for pain relief would be any safer than other medical pain relief, such as epidurals, which can also affect heart rate. We do not mean to imply the safety of either option, rather to raise the question of statistical probability of risks when comparing marijuana usage to accepted modern medicine norms.

No for Now

All told, to date, the safety of marijuana usage in pregnancy is toggling the line of opening up a can of worms. Like many pregnancy safety questions, researchers and doctors understandably are leery of giving a definitive answer because there’s a developing baby involved. As such, the answer — like the blanket US medical stance on alcohol consumption during pregnancy — is “since we can’t know, the answer is no.” In other words, the better-safe-than-sorry approach is the official medical word. Pregnant women are advised against using marijuana routinely during pregnancy, legalities notwithstanding. What people try on their own has been, and remains, another story.

Originally published at www.medicalmarijuana.com on February 18, 2016