Effects Of Cannabinoids On Night Terror Patients

Chronic Night Terrors Can Disrupt Lives

Screaming. Intense fear. Kicking and thrashing. Running around the house and aggressively fighting off restraint. These are some of the symptoms that manifest with night terrors, also known as sleep terrors. Night terrors are different from nightmares. A person wakes up from a nightmare and usually remembers the dream. Someone suffering a night terror does not wake up. And while some adults may remember fragments of the tight terror episode, children rarely remember it at all. 

A night terror is a sleep disorder that occurs in N3 sleep, which is the deepest stage of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and the same stage in which sleepwalking happens. While night terrors occur in adults, they are more common in children 3-12, which means they can potentially disrupt entire households.

The night terror itself is not harmful, but the effects certainly can be for both the sufferer of the episode, parents, or anyone else trying to sleep in the household. Chronic night terrors can lead to sleep deprivation or disrupted sleep patterns for all involved. Additionally, violent flailing and associated sleepwalking is a safety risk to everyone in the home. Naturally, the occurrence of these night terror effects increases with the frequency of the episodes.

Why Cannabinoids are the Most Effective Treatment for Night Terrors

It is widely known that people have used marijuana both therapeutically and recreationally to help them with sleep. But the cannabinoids cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have different effects on the nervous system and, therefore, offer differing benefits as sleep aids. While marijuana is still only medicinally legal in some states, cannabinoids with .3% or less THC (a non-psycho-active amount) became legal with the 2014 Farm Bill.

Before industrial hemp was legal, safely produced in the U.S., and made available, treatment offered to families with an adult or child suffering frequent night terrors was practically a pathetic shoulder shrug. There were three main options:

  1. Adjust
  2. In rare cases, medicate
  3. Treat underlying symptoms

1. Adjust. Parents especially love to hear this as the treatment for something their child is suffering. “They’ll grow out of it” is often part of the diagnosis, which is true, but does nothing for the meantime. And for adults, there is obviously no “growing out of it.”

Night terrors are a disturbance to the nervous system during N3 or slow-wave sleep. Because sleep cycles follow similar intervals every night, both children and adults usually have night terrors at about the same time each night. To keep this disturbance from happening in the deep sleep NREM cycle, there has been a success with waking someone with chronic night terrors about 15-20 minutes before episodes would normally occur.   

The problem with this often doctor-recommended solution is that in most cases, the episodes are occurring several hours into sleep. Parents or other household members have to set alarms and disrupt there own sleeping patterns in order to curb the night terror for the one who’s having it—not exactly a solution.

2. Medication. In extreme cases, doctors will prescribe medications such as benzodiazepines or anti-depressants, but almost never for a child. These drugs may have other adverse effects on the sleep cycle. Sleep medications are proven to keep people asleep longer, but at the expense of little time spent in deep sleep where the body does a lot of its repair and recovery. It seems silly to trade one sleep issue for another.

3. Treat underlying symptoms. Often, underlying symptoms are the cause of night terrors. These can include but are not limited to, anxiety, stress, breathing disorders such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, PTSD, some medications, and regular alcohol use.

There are many options for treating the above symptoms, but studies have shown that CBD can potentially help alleviate many of these conditions including anxiety, PTSD, and sleep apnea.

For some, however, the cause is not an underlying condition. Many night terror cases seem to be hereditary. A child related to someone who had the disorder or sleepwalking may be predisposed for the episodes.

CBD May Be a Viable Alternative to Medication for Night Terrors

Cannabis affects the endocannabinoid system (ECS) directly. The ECS regulates the interaction between the mind and the body. It affects the nervous system, organ function, and even the immune system. It works to maintain homeostasis, a term which describes the state of balance of the internal environment.

Medications often disrupt the balance of the body, while CBD has the potential to re-regulate the body’s natural processes. Studies have shown that the THC cannabinoid has a sedative effect, which allows a person to fall asleep more easily.

Researchers also have found that the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) can help with regulating sleep. CBD contains only .3% THC or less, so it cannot get a person “high.” In fact, CBD in lower doses is known to have alerting properties, which could possibly help with feelings of sleep deprivation during the day. Sleep deprivation, a disrupted sleep cycle, and stress are all contributing factor to night terrors.

Night terrors are a vicious cycle. The homeostasis-promoting properties of CBD may be able to help re-regulate a person’s nervous system and break the vicious cycle that can affect entire households.

It is important to consult a physician when considering cannabinoids as a treatment. Thus far, studies have found that side effects are minimal compared to many approved medications. And CBD may affect blood thinners or cause inhibition of hepatic drug metabolism.

However, now that industrial hemp can be safely grown, researched, and marketed in the U.S., growers are discovering the benefits of full spectrum cannabinoids.

But more studies are needed so that patients and doctors can continue to understand and optimize the benefits of cannabinoids as a viable, healthy, holistic alternative to drug dependency or the misery of living with chronic conditions.

Politicians, clinicians, and patients are already rigorously advocating for CBD. It’s time to put a stop to special interest groups and assuage the residual fears of the those who still view industrial hemp and CBD as threats rather than the natural benefits (on so many levels!) that they are.    


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Sleep Terrors (Night Terrors). Mayo Clinic. 19 March 2018. Web. 15 June 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sleep-terrors/symptoms-causes/syc-20353524

Peter. CBD oil benefits and side effects. Healthtrends. 10 April 2018. Web. 15 June 2018. https://healthtrends.com/cbd-oil/

Cannabis Therapy for Night Terrors and PTSD. Hopegrown. 13 March 2018. Web. 15 June 2018. https://www.hopegrown.org/blog/cannabis-therapy-for-night-terrors-and-ptsd

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