U of A researchers aim to uncover the science behind cannabis-sleep theories

NMHI neuroscientists receive federal funding to explore the effect cannabis components have on sleep and breathing.

MEGAN EATOCK - 30 June 2020

University of Alberta neuroscientists are launching a study exploring how components of cannabis impact sleep dynamics and breathing function, in the hope that the results will lead to safer treatment options for millions of Canadians who experience sleep deprivation and sleep disordered breathing.

"Over the long term, sleep deprivation is very serious as it can lead to injuries, cognitive decline, mental health issues and even changes to your cardiovascular function," said Silvia Pagliardini, an associate professor of physiology at the U of A, who is leading the study. "If compounds found in cannabis can help with sleep quality and duration, without negative side-effects, this research may translate to other areas of study as well."

The team of Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute (NMHI) researchers-which includes Pagliardini, Clayton Dickson, Greg Funk, Jesse Jackson and Joanna MacLean-has been awarded $1.15 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to pursue the research.

"Cannabis is incredibly complex as it is made up of more than 500 different compounds, a large proportion of them referred to as cannabinoids," said Pagliardini. "Our approach for this study is to systematically examine the most significant cannabinoid compounds found in cannabis and understand how each of these is affecting the areas of the brain which control sleep and breathing--two fundamental physiological functions that are tightly linked."

The team grant will allow the group to explore the impact of acute and chronic cannabinoid administration.. As the study will look at both adult and prenatal interventions, the research will also provide more insight into the effect cannabinoids have on brain development.

"We know that from a medical perspective, cannabis may provide fundamental health benefits if it can truly promote the full spectrum of sleep or improve breathing function during sleep, but further research is required in order to understand the impact of each compound on the brain," said Pagliardini.