Cannabis has profound effects on dreams, even though the relationship is complicated. While marijuana’s sedative effects are well understood, not many are aware of how marijuana affects dreams. Regular marijuana users may find it hard to sleep without taking a cannabis dose, or if they manage to get some sleep, they may end up having disturbing, vivid, and uncomfortable dreams. In this article, you will understand both positive and negative ways that marijuana affects your dreams.

Let’s get started.

What Are Dreams and What Causes Humans to Dream?

Before you understand the link between marijuana and dreams, it’s important to understand why humans dream in the first place and what happens during the different stages of sleep; yes, sleep has different stages.

Humans have been intrigued by dreams for a long time. From the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians who believed dreams were prophecies to Aristotle to others who believed that dreams were souls living their lives at night.

The obsession with dreams has continued into modern times. Now, MRI studies of the brain during sleep have revealed that dreams have a lot to do with brain function, a person’s age, and genetics. [1]  While research on dreaming is still preliminary, it is evident that sleep is essential for building memory and recall, boosting creativity, and processing our emotions. Scientists are by the day unearthing a myriad other reasons that may explain why we dream. For example, dreaming has been implicated in the treatment process of certain diseases. [2]

To fully understand human sleep and dreams, let’s learn about the sleep stages. The human sleep cycle is divided into REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM ( non-rapid eye movement) sleep stages.

The NREM is further divided into the following three stages;

N1: This is the period when you transition from wakefulness to sleep.

N2: This is also a transitional sleep stage, and it happens when you pass from one stage of sleep to another, for example, N3 to REM sleep.

N3: Sometimes referred to as slow-wave sleep (SWS). It’s a deep stage of NREM. It’s the stage where your body gets restorative energy both physically and mentally. 

As a human, you can dream through any stage, but dreaming majorly occurs in the REM stage of the cycle. Research suggests that 80% of dreaming happens in the REM stage. The weird thing is that you only spend 20% of your sleep time in the REM stage.

NREM dreams are mostly your everyday activities, while REM dreams are strange events but easy for you to remember.

The REM sleep stage is essential because many of your brain’s critical emotional and memory centers are active during that period. Moreover, this is the period where your brain is free of a crucial anxiety-producing chemical, noradrenaline. 

How Does Marijuana Affect Dreams?

So now, you have a better understanding of sleep, why you dream, and its cycles. You’ll now get to understand how marijuana affects your dreams through the sleep stages. Many heavy cannabis users share that they experience very few dreams while regularly using it. Then when they decide to take a tolerance break, they start sharing intense dreams. 

This is because the main abundant intoxicating ingredient in cannabis, THC, suppresses the REM sleep stage.  A 2008 study showed that heavy and regular marijuana users spent less time in their REM stage when compared to non-users. [3]

You remember that the REM stage is where we spend most of our dreaming time. This explains why regular heavy cannabis users who have few hours at the REM stage are dreamless compared to non-heavy users.

But, what does that study say about marijuana’s effect on sleep? This is super simple. Many people use this plant as a sleeping aid, and research has shown that cannabis works well in our bodies through the endocannabinoid system. 

More evidence shows that certain strains of cannabis may impact the amount of time you would take to sleep while others will work immediately. A 2004 study shows the effects of different doses of THC and CBD on the sleep cycle. The study showed that THC has a sleep-promoting effect that can also leave a person moody, making it hard for them to complete specific tasks. [4]

The study also showed those who were given THC spent less time in stage 3 of REM sleep. But, CBD in lower doses had a waking effect on the participants. It showed that CBD could increase your wake activity during sleep.

Therefore, whether marijuana has a negative or positive effect on a person’s dreams depends on the type of cannabis and how much they consume on a regular basis and/or how much they consume before bed.

How to Prevent Crazy Dreams on a Tolerance Break  

If you’ve decided to take a tolerance break, chances are you may experience crazy dreams and inadequate sleep. Is there any solution that you can use to prevent the unwanted side effects?

The short answer is yes.

Anytime you stop a specific regular habit, your body will take some time to adjust, and cannabis is no different. The exact amount of time that will take you to withdraw from cannabis will depend on how frequently you use it. Research shows that strange marijuana dreams and sleep disturbance symptoms can even worsen on your second day of abstinence.  [5]

But, how long they last will depend on different individuals. You may find that some people won’t experience any symptoms at all. The good news is that there are some strategies you can try to improve the quality of your sleep. These are:

  • Wake up at the same time every day, try to do the same, even on weekends.
  • Make your bedroom comfortable, relaxed, and calm.
  • Invest in good bedding and a comfortable mattress.
  • Avoid caffeine at night.
  • Eliminate Electronic viewings while in bed (i.e. phone, laptop, TV, etc)
  • If possible, dim or switch off the lights.
  • Try a relaxing activity before bedtime. For example, you can try some light stretches.

A bonus tip is to try and substitute high THC with low THC and high CBD. CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid and studies show that in higher doses CBD can be a sedative.

CBD oil will help improve your sleep and reduce any sleep associated anxiety. [6]

Conclusion

When it comes to cannabis’ connection with sleep and dreams, please note that cannabis is not a one size fits all option. If working with a medical professional or on your own, finding the right sweet spot with dosing, ratios and cannabinoids can and will be beneficial for a good night’s sleep.

References

  1. Meredith Sabini. (1981): Dreams as an aid in determining diagnosis, prognosis, and attitudes towards treatment.    Psychotherapy and psychosomatics. 36 (1), pp 24-36
  2. Rebecca Spencer (2019). The science of dreams. Frontiers for young minds. Retrieved from https://kids.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frym.2019.00140
  3. Bolla, K. I., Lesage, S. R., Gamaldo, C. E., Neubauer, D. N., Funderburk, F. R., Cadet, J. L., David, P. M., Verdejo-Garcia, A., & Benbrook, A. R. (2008). Sleep disturbance in heavy marijuana users. Sleep, 31(6), 901–908. 
  4. Bolla, K. I., Lesage, S. R., Gamaldo, C. E., Neubauer, D. N., Funderburk, F. R., Cadet, J. L., David, P. M., Verdejo-Garcia, A., & Benbrook, A. R. (2008). Sleep disturbance in heavy marijuana users. Sleep, 31(6), 901–908.
  5. Nicholson, A. N., Turner, C., Stone, B. M., & Robson, P. J. (2004). Effect of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol on nocturnal sleep and early-morning behavior in young adults. Journal of clinical psychopharmacology, 24(3), 305–313.
  6. Blessing, E. M., Steenkamp, M. M., Manzanares, J., & Marmar, C. R. (2015). Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics : the journal of the American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics, 12(4), 825–836.    



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