Does cannabis have an effect on your dreams?

Does smoking marijuana make you not have dreams? Or does it make them extra vivid?

Because so many people use cannabis as a sleep aid – and because modern medical research continues to show how important REM sleep, the “dream sleep” phase, is to a person’s general health – these are questions which need to be answered.

But the link between marijuana and dreams is a complicated one. Here’s everything you need to know:

Cannabis and dreams

Anecdotally, it’s well known that using cannabis on a regular basis can have an effect on your dreams. Usually, this means they drop away almost to nothing.

It’s also comparatively well-known that if you stop using marijuana at the level you regularly do, your dreams will start again – brighter and stranger than they ever have been before…

dream book

How do dreams work?

Dreams happen as part of your natural sleep cycle. The sleep cycle happens in four stages which are run through by your body maybe four or five times every night. Here’s how they go:

  • Stage 1 – light sleeping. Takes up around 5% of the sleep cycle.
  • Stage 2 – deeper sleeping. Your heart rate starts to drop and so does your temperature. Takes up around 50% of the sleep cycle.
  • Stage 3 – deep sleep. This is the “healing” phase of sleep, where the immune system shows signs of recovering, along with tissue repair and growth.
  • Stage 4 – REM sleep. Rapid Eye Movement, the phase during which you dream. Takes up around two hours per night total.

What are dreams for?

The question of why we dream is one which has been answered in different ways by philosophers as well as physicians for hundreds of years.

One of the most popular modern theories is that dreams are a way for your brain to store and assess thoughts which occurred and knowledge which was gained during the day.

Others believe dreams to be for emotional processing purposes. Still yet others believe dreams have a purpose of a philosophical or spiritual nature.

Many people also believe that dreams have no purpose whatsoever. But the theory that dreams are used to process waking thoughts and experiences seems to have the most weight of science behind it.

Why is REM sleep important?

There is evidence to show that REM sleep – otherwise known as dream sleep – is important to the human body in all sorts of ways:

  • Anxiety levels are reduced – during dream sleep, noradrenaline levels in the brain become lower (noradrenaline is a substance in the brain which can trigger anxiety).
  • Mood may be leveled out – going without REM sleep can lead you to experience different moods.
  • Spatial memory is recharged – going without dream sleep for an extended period can also impair your spatial memory, meaning you often lose things or trip over items you’ve already seen.
  • Performance is improved – getting regular dream sleep seems to improve overall performance and general well-being.

Does weed stop dreams?

While cannabis effects everyone just a little bit differently, most people will tell you that dreaming while high is a comparatively rare occurrence. The likelihood of you being able to dream while using marijuana may be linked to the amount of THC in the strain you prefer.

Because THC dreams, in particular, are very rare. Several scientific studies have shown that THC – tetrahydrocannabinol, one of the 113 cannabinoids found in cannabis and one of the primary psychoactive components – suppresses or shortens the length of the dream sleep portion of the sleep cycle.

For most people, dreams return with a vengeance as soon as they start using less or completely stop using cannabis. This is thought to be the body’s way of readjusting to a more “normal” REM sleep phase. This is sometimes referred to as having an “REM rebound”.

Can you lucid dream if you smoke weed?

CBD (cannabidiol, another cannabinoid found in marijuana), on the other hand, seems to have an enabling effect when it comes to dreams. Many CBD users have reported having “weed dreams” – dreams which seemed very real, often positive and surprisingly easy to remember.

So, while the presence of THC in the cannabis you are consuming may be acting to suppress your REM sleep, CBD seems to be acting to encourage it. In fact, a recent review of scientific evidence relating CBD to dreams concluded that it increased the onset of dream sleep.

There’s only a small amount of anecdotal evidence of any link between weed and lucid dreams.

dream with butterflies

How cannabis may affect your ability to dream

The different components and cannabinoids found in cannabis may affect your body’s ability to sleep in different ways. The main research done so far relates to the two main cannabinoids:

  • CBD – is beneficial as a sleep aid for many people, seeming to encourage a good night’s sleep and the onset of REM sleep. It may also lead to positive cannabis dreams which are easy to recall.
  • THC – may be beneficial for people who experience sleep behavior disorder and related conditions. Sleep behavior disorder is a condition in which the body’s usual ability not to act out dreams is impaired, leading a person to move their bodies in bed as if they were performing the actions in their dreams. Because THC seems to suppress REM sleep, it may offer some relief.

Using cannabis as a sleep aid

If you use cannabis as a sleep aid, it’s important to know that long-term, regular use can lead to your REM sleep being suppressed. This isn’t usually a good thing, as it can lead to the loss of the beneficial health and well-being aspects of dream sleep outlined above.

Many users choose to opt for periodic usage breaks in order to get their REM sleep back to normal, often leading to an “REM rebound”. Unfortunately, constantly suppressing and then rebounding your REM sleep levels isn’t good for you either.

An added complication is that people who do use cannabis as a sleep aid often do so because the alternative is to suffer from insomnia – something else which isn’t healthy!

The key, as always, is to use a little moderation. Smart dosage control can allow you to enjoy the benefit of cannabis as a sleep aid without much REM suppression. Lower doses may actually be more effective, allowing you to gradually adjust the amount you take to find the perfect balance between marijuana and dreams.

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