I Tried a THC Gummy for Better Sleep, and Here’s How It Went

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

This column first ran in Valerie Monroe’s newsletter, How Not to F*ck Up Your Face, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

Q: I’m through with menopause. But now I can’t sleep. Help!

A: When you’ve been a lifelong champion sleeper and you’re slowly robbed of that gift (thanks, hormonal deficiencies of menopause), it can make you feel ungenerous toward your body, even betrayed. Which, in turn, can make you less than careful about what you put into it. That’s how I account for my willingness to try almost anything anyone suggests that promises to be soporific — as long as it isn’t addictive, which of course knocks out all manner of effective options. (By the way, I’m talking about occasional sleeplessness and not chronic insomnia, which is a serious problem for many and requires a less lighthearted approach than what you’ll find here.)

I’ve tried several ingestible options. I’ve tried valerian tincture, which put me to sleep but gave me vivid nightmares. I’ve tried various forms of melatonin at different times of the day and evening — including a tincture, a powder dissolved in hot water, a drink, and a capsule — all of which worked for a few months and then stopped working completely. I’ve tried something homeopathic, which had zero effect. And a cup of warm milk

I’ve listened to white noise and other sleep sounds. Sometimes I conked out, but more often I did not; my sleeplessness was inconsistent. I might go for weeks sleeping like a champ again and then, for no apparent reason, suddenly be up all night. I did everything you’re supposed to do for a better bedtime: no lights, no devices, no exercise before bed, no booze, cold room, and a weighted blanket. When none of that worked, I tried lights, devices, exercise before bed, booze, and a light blanket. I watched 1960s game shows. All those stories headlined “The Secret to Better Sleep” repeated the same useless advice, and yet I read every one, hoping for … the secret to better sleep. Finally, I just didn’t want to hear it anymore.

Here’s something else I didn’t want to hear: that chronic lack of sleep really can affect your skin. It’s associated with increased signs of aging, including fine lines, uneven pigmentation, reduced elasticity, and, naturally, concomitant reduced self-satisfaction with appearance. The sleep-deprived among us are perceived as less attractive and healthy. Filling out this unfortunate picture — the zombie topper on the cake — is the fact that lack of sleep can also affect our perceived value as a social partner, because it mucks up all manner of facial cues. (For example, when you’re in a two-day-straight-awake coma and someone kindly asks you, “Are you okay?” your face may betray your answer before your assurance that you won’t kill the someone.)

A friend in whom I’d confided my sleep troubles, and who happened to share them, told me that she’d recently visited a new store in our neighborhood that sold cannabis-derived products. Where we live, in New York State, it’s legal to possess up to three ounces of marijuana, but still illegal to sell it in a dispensary without a prescription. However, some products, like those containing Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-8 THC), a psychoactive substance found in the cannabis sativa plant, are legal. The gummy my friend bought and tried (and which I bought a bag of) contains hemp-derived Delta-8 THC. The instructions on the packaging illustrate taking a gummy, waiting 60 minutes, and then drifting off to la-la land.

My friend said she’d eaten half a gummy and felt a little chill, hardly anything at all, but was looking forward to its potential sleep-inducing qualities. My big mistake: I didn’t Google the active ingredients. Dreaming of the extended nap I would have that night, I ate half a gummy just before dinner. About an hour later — because I felt not even a hint of anything — I decided to eat the other half for dessert. I wanted chill, more chill.

Maybe you can guess what’s coming. In a little while, I began to feel lightheaded — or, no, it was heavy. In any case, my head felt … complexly weird. First, because I wasn’t expecting much, I didn’t connect the gummy to my state of mind. But as I — a child of the ’60s and no newcomer to the world of recreational drugs — realized I was getting high, I began to wonder what I often wondered after taking such a drug: How high? As in, I’m on a roller coaster, climbing, and there is, at the moment, no end in sight to the ascent. At some point it felt as if my brain were being squeezed through a wormhole; there was no such thing as time.Except back on earth, there was time, and it was Grammie o’clock, when my son and 5-year-old granddaughter typically call me from Japan.

Reader, I did the best I could, considering how the gummy imposed an unwelcome funhouse-carnival atmosphere on every FaceTime image: My granddaughter M’s doll-like face filling the whole screen as she leaned over the iPad to sing me a counting song in her screechiest voice; the dizzying effect of being twirled around the living room, bounced on a small trampoline, and dropped jarringly on the couch. Finally, when M ran off on some errand and my son came back into the picture, I said, “Honey, I’m so high.”

“What? Wait, what, Mom?”

“I took a gummy for sleep and I’m really high.”

My son, momentarily taken aback, said, “Wow.” Then, after a second, “You seem totally normal to me. Are you all right?” He laughed. As you might imagine, I was both relieved and a little dismayed.

To telescope the remainder of the evening: The FaceTime call eventually ended (after what felt like approximately 16 hours), I cleaned up the kitchen — very careful not to drop anything —  did my bedtime ablutions (I think) in a haze, and fell into a dreamless slumber.

When I finally did Google Delta-8 THC, the first thing I found was a warning from the FDA about its potentially adverse effects, including hallucinations. Because there’s little oversight or lab testing on what goes into Delta-8 THC products, there are safety concerns, such as impurities, including high levels of THC. The warning suggested consumers might be misled about the effects of the substance (as I was) because it’s hemp-derived, and that there were numerous reports of pediatric overdoses. The product does indeed look like candy and it’s easy to imagine a child, thinking she was enjoying a mouthful of gummies, eating a handful. Nightmare.

An obvious but still valid point of the story: Unless you’re Alice, don’t ingest anything before you know exactly what it is.

At last, some potentially good news. I’ve found something that seems (for now) to bring on sleep: a library of breathing exercises and stories on the Headspace app created specifically to induce relaxation. At bedtime, I listen to one favorite or another; they’re not always the same because the stories are remixed every night. Anyway, I usually pass out before the story is over. This is as good an explanation I could find about how adult bedtime stories induce sleep. No drugs. No ambushing head trips. I’m not suggesting this method is right for you, because what one formerly exhausted person swears by might be useless to another currently exhausted person. But it could be worth a try.

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