It should come as no surprise that any mind-altering drug could alter not just your mind while you are awake, but also your mind while you are asleep. The question isn’t so much does marijuana affect dreams (it does), it’s more a matter of how and why does marijuana affect dreams?
Do you ever notice that cannabis can help you drift off to a peaceful, but often dreamless, sleep? And then, when you stop smoking for a period of time, even just a day or two, you are overwhelmed by incredibly vivid dreams that feel almost too real? Well, that’s because there’s a link between marijuana and dreams.
To truly understand how marijuana and dreams are connected, and to grasp the science behind those strange cannabis withdrawal dreams or nonexistent dreams when you are high, you need to know a little bit about how sleep works.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is not actually a shut down of your brain; it’s actually a very active state with several patterns of activity occurring in a cycle. There are two main parts of this cycle, non-REM sleep, and REM sleep, which stands for rapid eye movement. During the REM phase of your sleep cycle your brain becomes more active and your eyes move rapidly in different directions (hence the name) — this is when most dreaming occurs. An average healthy adult can have multiple REM cycles a night; that is, unless you are under the influence of marijuana.
Why Does Marijuana Affect Dreams?
Dr. Samoon Ahmad, a practicing psychopharmacologist and psychiatrist, tells Business Insider, “people who use marijuana, they tend to suppress REM sleep, they have less REM sleep. And when they have less REM sleep you’re going to have less dreams because dreams only happen during REM sleep.”
How do we know this? Unfortunately, studies investigating the effects of marijuana on sleep (and on many health-related topics for that matter) are hard to come by because cannabis is an illegal substance. Back in the 70s a study was conducted to look into the connection between cannabis use and sleep patterns. The study, published in the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, found was that “administration of THC significantly reduced eye movement activity during sleep with rapid eye movements (REM) and, to a lesser extent, the duration of REM itself.”
While many people may use cannabis to help induce sleep — specifically indica strains of marijuana, which we know to have sedative effects — the quality of the sleep is diminished due to the way the cannabinoids impact the functioning of the various receptors in the endocannabinoid system. Basically, pot can make you feel sleepy and help you dose off, but it will actually hurt the quality of your sleep, resulting in a lack of dreams.
More recently, a 2017 report published in Current Psychiatry Reports confirmed that “preliminary research into cannabis and insomnia suggests that cannabidiol (CBD) may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of insomnia. Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) may decrease sleep latency but could impair sleep quality long-term.”
Cannabis Withdrawal Dreams are a Real Thing
So that answers the question of does marijuana affect dreams? Yes, yes it does. But as it turns out, not smoking pot also impacts your dreams. Research on the connection between marijuana and dreams doesn’t just look at how your sleep and your dreams are altered while under the influence of cannabis, but also how and why cannabis withdrawal dreams occur.
When you stop smoking pot, your sleep cycle doesn’t just go back to normal. Your REM sleep actually increases more than normal, which is called REM rebound effect. Those longer periods of REM sleep lead to not only increased dreams, but lead to more vivid, sometimes disturbing dreams. In fact, nonclinical and clinical research associate sleep disturbances and vivid dreams as hallmark signs of cannabis withdrawal.
There is certainly a need for more research on the link between marijuana and dreams, but for now let’s just say this…if you notice that you are dreaming less when you consume cannabis, and your dreams get a little bizarre when you stop, it’s not in your head.
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