Access To Recreational Cannabis Decreases Demand For OTC Sleep Aids

Nearly 50% of US populations suffers from sleep disturbances. Cannabis is rapidly gaining popularity and has been shown to be a promising substitute for prescription opioids and other classes of medications, which often carry undesirable side effects, dangerous drug interactions, and risk of death. The negative association between cannabis access and sleep aid sales suggests a consumer preference for cannabis.

Investigators from the University of New Mexico and California Polytechnic State University assessed trends in the demand for OTC sleep aids in the years prior to and immediately after the enactment of adult-use marijuana regulation.


The authors, assistant professor Jacqueline Doremus (CalPoly, Economics), assistant professor Sarah Stith (UNM, Economics), and associate professor Jacob Vigil (UNM, Psychology) find that access to recreational cannabis decreases demand for over-the-counter, or OTC, sleep aids, including diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and doxylamine (Unisom).

Researchers reported: “For the first time, we show a statistically significant negative association between recreational access to cannabis and OTC sleep aid sales, suggesting that at least some recreational purchasers are using cannabis for therapeutic rather than recreational purposes. … [O]ur results indicate that enough individuals are switching from OTC sleep aids to recreational cannabis that we can identify a statistically significant reduction in the market share growth of OTC sleep aids in conjunction with access to recreational cannabis using.”

The findings are based on the largest repository of UPC-level scanner data in the country, the Nielsen data set, collected by the Nielsen Company and available through the Kilts Center for Marketing at the Chicago Booth School of Business. The authors used these data to create market shares for OTC sleep aids to measure how the store-level OTC sleep aid market shares changed when a recreational cannabis dispensary entered the same county in which the store operates. The authors found that previously increasing market shares reversed course and declined with the availability of recreational cannabis. As more dispensaries entered a store’s county, the effect became even stronger.


The study aimed to address the practical question of whether the therapeutic benefits of cannabis extend beyond those covered by state medical programs; conditions which typically can only be treated using recreational cannabis. Due to the Schedule 1 status of cannabis and its inherent lack of product standardization, it would be difficult to design randomized controlled trials to address this important research question.

Authors concluded: “Our results show that the market share growth for sleep aids shrank with the entry of recreational cannabis dispensaries … and the strength of the association increased with each subsequent dispensary. … Our results are consistent with evidence that legal access to medical cannabis is associated with reductions in Scheduled II-V prescription medications, many of which may be used in part as sleep aids.”

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