When you don’t get a good night’s rest, it can throw your whole day off, as most of us know from personal experience. But a lack of sleep not only makes you grumpy and forgetful, it can also lead to serious mental and physical issues. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, sleep deprivation can increase your brain age by 3-5 years (and your risk of dementia by 33 percent). It can also make you more susceptible to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other major health risks.
Around 50-70 million Americans have a sleep disorder, per data from the American Sleep Association, and most of them are willing to try almost anything in the quest for more shuteye. Weighted blankets, melatonin supplements, blue light blockers — they’ve all had their moment in the sun (or moon?), but right now the trendiest sleep aid of all might be cannabis.
From speciality vape pens to sleep-promoting CBD gummies, there’s a constantly-growing list of ways that cannabis may help you get your daily dose of Vitamin Zzz. One of the most effective might also be one of the most old-fashioned, though: Cannabis massage. That’s because the combination of cannabis-infused topicals together with classical massage techniques can offer a 2-in-1 remedy for sleeplessness.
If you’ve ever felt sleepy after a massage — and who hasn’t? — there’s a scientific explanation for it. Massage releases serotonin, a neurotransmitter in our brains that makes us feel calm. In 2005, researchers from the University of Miami School of Medicine published a review that found massage could significantly boost the body’s levels of serotonin by an average of 28 percent.
For years, scientists have been intrigued by the role serotonin plays in promoting (or preventing) sleep. Some studies have shown that higher levels of serotonin make it easier to fall asleep, while others have indicated the opposite. However, a 2019 study in the journal Neuron seems to have settled the debate (for now) by showing that “the serotonergic system promotes sleep.”
Serotonin can also help you sleep in indirect ways. It’s a precursor of melatonin, which is the chemical your brain produces when it’s time to fall asleep. So when you get a massage, you’re not just relieving your body of stress or pain (which are major factors in many sleep disorders), you’re also helping it get ready for bed.
While scientists are still exploring exactly how cannabis affects sleep, there’s a growing body of evidence that suggests it could be helpful for people who struggle to turn off their busy minds at night.
For example, a 2017 review in the journal Current Psychiatry Reports found that two of the most common cannabis compounds — THC and CBD — showed significant potential for treating sleep issues (though it also found that THC could be detrimental to sleep quality over the long haul).
CBD, on the other hand, has shown the ability to help people sleep better without the risk of long-term side effects. This is because it works differently than conventional sleep aids like Ambien — essentially, CBD keeps you more awake during the day so you’re more tired at night.
Some cannabis-based pharmaceutical medications have also demonstrated promise for treating sleep issues. A 2007 study in the journal Chemistry & Biodiversity showed that Sativex, an oromucosal medicine, helped “40–50 percent of subjects [attain] good or very good sleep quality.”
So now you know how massage and cannabis both support sleep, but why are they more effective when you mix them together?
The secret lies in your body’s endocannabinoid system. This is a network of receptors found throughout your body that regulates a wide variety of bodily functions, including sleep. When you apply a cannabis topical to your skin, its cannabinoids interact with these receptors to relieve pain, reduce stress, and (yes) promote sleep.
The best part about cannabis massage? You don’t even have to leave your home to try it.
Who doesn’t love a good foot rub? They’re easy, enjoyable, and with the addition of cannabis topicals, they’re even more effective at conjuring up those sleepytime vibes:
As long as you choose a cannabis topical that is lab-tested and free of harmful chemicals, there are few risks associated with cannabis massage (though if you have allergies to certain fragrances, you’ll want to be careful with the terpenes in your topicals). Of course, if you’re receiving a treatment at a massage center, you’ll want to make sure you’re not too blissed-out before getting behind the wheel, but that’s an easily avoidable problem — and if you’re giving yourself a cannabis massage at home, it’s a complete non-issue.
At Primal Therapeutics, my cannabis massage practice in Colorado, we’ve worked with many, many patients who say our treatments have helped them relax and sleep better. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard someone say after a treatment, “Wow, I feel like I’m ready to crawl into bed.”
I can certainly understand where they’re coming from — and if you give cannabis massage a try, you might too.