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Improving sleep with medical marijuana

'Women come to us with confidence,' gynecologist says of prescribing marijuana
Medical Marijuana Shrinking Market
Posted at 10:00 PM, May 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-10 23:38:27-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — We are constantly connected. Heavily caffeinated. Busier than ever.

No wonder it's harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

"Women, especially, have lots of anxiety -- anxiety about their children, about their work. Their brain just turns all night. You've got to shut that down," Greenacres gynecologist Dr. Maureen Whelihan said.

Nancy Lauren, a full-time hairstylist and grandmother of four, had to resort to prescription medication like Ambien to help her sleep.

"When I woke up, I was always groggy," she said. "I did not have a clear head. I don't like taking pills. I hate it. So I thought, 'I'm never going to be able to find anything.'"

Leslie Montenero was in the same boat.

In remission from lung cancer, Montenero also turned to prescription pills to get some rest. She said they didn't help.

"No, 'cause I always woke up with a hangover," she said. "It was awful."

Two women desperate for relief ended up getting it from an unexpected source.

"And when my doctor said it, she just looked at me and I said, 'Marijuana,'" Montenero said. "I was so excited. I said, 'Oh, it's back?'"

"At first you have the stigma of, 'Oh, what am I doing.' But no, this feels good and it's been great," Lauren said.

Whelihan is a certifying physician of medical cannabis.

"Women come to us with confidence," Whelihan said. "I know their anxiety disorder. I know what we've tried before. I know how to manage most of these problems, but when I'm out of ideas, I love that I have this option."

"It calms me down," Lauren said. "I'm able to sleep comfortable and I stay asleep."

Montenero agrees.

"It's much easier and much more pleasant, the whole experience, because when you do sleep, you sleep like a log," she said. "I sleep really well."

Dr. Luis Pena is a pulmonologist and sleep health expert in Palm Beach County. He wants to see more data on medical marijuana before he recommends it to his patients for sleep.

"Marijuana definitely does. It's a sleep enhancer," he said. "The question is not a question of if you will fall asleep. It's if THC improves the quality of sleep."

THC is the chemical responsible for marijuana's psychological effects.

Pena recommends ruling out more serious problems like sleep apnea before trying medical cannabis. These are tips he gives to his patients who are suffering from insomnia:

  • Keep a regular bedtime schedule.
  • Don't use electronic devices or watch TV in bed.
  • Prepare for bedtime. Allow yourself some time to relax before going to bed.
  • Avoid copious meals or alcohol at least three hours before bedtime.
  • Keep a comfortable room temperature: Not too hot or cold. But keep it on the cooler end if possible.
  • Avoid caffeine after noon hours
  • Exercise regularly, ideally in the morning hours
  • If you can't fall asleep after 20 minutes, go to a different room with a dim light and do something relaxing or boring. Don't go back to bed until you feel drowsy.
  • Avoid LED lights or screens in the bedroom.
  • Consult a health care professional if your sleep doesn't make you feel replenished and rested in the morning.

Above all else, Pena recommends prioritizing sleep.

"I truly believe our lifespan could be decreased, but, more importantly, our quality of life is going to be impaired," Pena said. "I think that's what matters most."

Lauren and Montenero credit medicinal marijuana for improving their quality of life. They hope speaking out helps lessen the stigma and gives tired people options.

If you would like more information on Whelihan and medical cannabis, click here.

If you would like more information on Pena, click here.