Weed is a regular part of many people’s nighttime rituals. For some individuals, it’s a recreational activity to enjoy before bed. Others use cannabis for the express purpose of achieving better sleep. However, some people are noticing that marijuana has a serious effect on their dreams.
Marijuana is a mind-altering substance, so it makes sense that it would have an impact on dreams, but the effect isn’t always what people imagine. A large group of people claim that smoking weed or using it in other forms caused them to stop having any dreams. Plus, some people quit marijuana only to have colorful or vivid dreams and nightmares that feel way too real.
Dreams are a source of fascination, largely because nobody knows what their purpose is. Some philosophers believe that dreams reveal our hidden fears and desires, while many scientists believe they serve purposes ranging from mental housekeeping to building memories or processing emotion. Other experts believe dreams have no purpose or meaning—that they’re merely random by-products of sleep.
Scientists are just beginnning to explore and understand the connection between dreams and marijuana, and the questions abound: If dreams do serve a purpose, does marijuana prevent them from fulfilling it? Does weed stop dreams, or are people just forgetting them? What is the exact relationship between weed and sleep?
Do Stoners Dream?
Unfortunately, there isn’t really a clear-cut answer to this question. Many people report that weed stops them from dreaming, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t dreaming.
Most people dream for about two hours every night. Dream are most intense during the rapid eye movement stage known as REM sleep. During the REM stage, your eyes move rapidly behind your eyelids and your brain becomes much more active. Dreams during the REM stage are often far more vivid or bizarre, while non-REM dreams tend to be significantly more coherent. Because REM sleep is the lightest level of sleep, you are most likely to wake up in this period and remember your dreams.
Understanding REM sleep is a big part of figuring out how weed and dreams are linked. Older studies claim that marijuana decreases REM sleep due to one of its main psychoactive components, THC. According to the research, smoking or consuming active marijuana causes a person to have fewer periods of REM sleep. This means fewer vivid and realistic dreams, which are harder to remember once you wake up.
Additionally, some studies show interfering with REM sleep causes memory issues. There’s also evidence that heavy marijuana use leads to a decline in short-term memory. This could indicate that stoners do dream and that their drug of choice is just causing them to forget their dreams.
On the other hand, many scientists contend that these findings come from outdated studies that were poorly controlled. Several years ago, researchers from Wayne State University School of Medicine had participants smoke active marijuana with 3 percent THC on some days and placebo pot on others. During the study, neither variety of marijuana impacted REM sleep. However, after smoking the placebo joints, participants had lower amounts of slow-wave sleep and even showed signs of insomnia.
When we wake up during REM sleep, we are far more likely to remember our dreams. If we sleep through REM cycles, we tend to forget them. According to the experts who ran this sleep study, it’s not that weed causes people to stop dreaming or forget their dreams. They may just be getting better sleep, and the natural consequence of that is remembering fewer dreams. In other words, the research is divided on the question of whether stoners dream.
Is Not Dreaming Bad?
In a similar vein, there’s not really one clear, definitive answer to this question. Having fewer dreams or not remembering them can be either a positive or negative sign. If older studies are correct and weed is impacting a person’s sleep and triggering insomnia, it could lead to a host of other issues. Some of the problems that can develop due to a lack of REM sleep include difficulty concentrating during the day, excessive sleepiness, and poor memory. Chronic sleep deprivation has links to serious issues like depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
On the other hand, there is also research indicating that marijuana may help relieve insomnia among certain populations. For example, experts think that up to 72 percent of people with PTSD experience nightmares, affecting their ability to sleep. Some studies have found that cannabis and synthetic forms of THC have been able to alleviate these nightmares and fight insomnia in people with PTSD.
Ultimately, without further research on the topic, it remains impossible to say if marijuana’s potential ability to stop dreams is inherently positive or negative. Think about how you feel throughout the day. If you’re drowsy during the day or feel like you sleep poorly while smoking marijuana, it may be time to quit.
Altered or Vivid Dreams While Using Marijuana or After Quitting
In contrast to the loss of dreams many people have while using various forms of weed, some individuals have significantly more vivid dreams. This effect is particularly common after abstaining from marijuana following a period of heavy use.
Some experts refer to this as “REM rebound.” Essentially, if marijuana does inhibit REM sleep, suddenly stopping weed use causes vivid and unusual dreams as the brain begins to enter REM sleep more often. During this period, nightmares become far more common and feel significantly more real. Sometimes these vivid dreams may have nothing to do with REM sleep and instead may stem from issues like anxiety, insomnia, or PTSD, which a marijuana user may have been self-medicating. Whatever the explanation, one thing is certain: For people with a marijuana use disorder, REM rebound can be a significant obstacle on their path toward sobriety.
Depending on the cause, unnaturally vivid dreams may relent after a short period or persist for many years. For these reasons, future research into the relationships between marijuana, sleep, and dreams is critical to helping those who want to scale back on their weed use and those who want to improve their sleep or mental health.
If you are having issues with marijuana use, sleep, nightmares, or dreams, reach out to our experts at FHE Health. We have extensive experience in treating addiction, mental health, and sleep problems, via the latest neuro technologies and evidence-based therapies. For more information on treatment options that can help you or a loved one, contact us today.