Does Heavy Cannabis Use Interfere With Dreaming?
3 min

Does Heavy Cannabis Use Interfere With Dreaming?

3 min

If you've ever noticed a change in your dreams after quitting cannabis or when taking a break from using, you're not alone.

Cannabis is known for improving the quality of sleep. Not only can a little weed give us the best sleep of our lives, but it also helps medical patients and other individuals that have trouble falling asleep on their own. Whether it be due to pain or a general sleep disorder, such as insomnia, cannabis can assist us in drifting off into dreamland.

In fact, there are several strains out there, that help to improve your sleep. Take Bubba Kush, for example, which is an indica, that is best known for providing the most relaxing high, one that could very well leave you on the couch for hours. Then there is Blue Mystic, an indica, that will give you the most comfortable body buzz of your life. All in all, strains like these can provide higher quality sleep. Moreover, they help you fall asleep faster. But what about dreams? Does cannabis have any effect on our dreams?


Sleep cycle

If you've ever noticed a change in your dreams after quitting cannabis or when taking a break from using, you're not alone. Heavy users report experiencing the most bizarre and vivid dreams when they stop consuming cannabis as frequently. However, those that regularly use the herb often say they cannot remember their dreams. So, what's the deal?

For the most part, people believe there's a connection between cannabis and dreams, especially when it comes to REM sleep. According to Psychology Today, weed reduces REM sleep, as well as your dreams. However, when you quit, the complete opposite happens. As a result of taking a tolerance break or quitting for good, you experience an increase in REM sleep and more definite dreams.

On the other hand, Dr. Timothy Roehrs, a sleep expert at the Henry Ford Health System, says there is insufficient evidence to confirm such a theory. Moreover, he says that the belief may be completely wrong. "The literature on whether or not marijuana affects REM sleep is extremely weak and equivocal”, says Roehrs. Furthermore, he says, “some studies have shown it suppresses REM sleep, some studies have shown it doesn’t.”

Although many articles can point to studies that report the same theory, they tend to be outdated. According to Roehrs, they generally are from around the 1970s to 1980s. Not to mention, he says there are only six studies in total. Therefore, it's hard to accept such a belief.

So, if REM sleep has nothing to do with our vivid and crazy dreams, what does? Roehrs has his own theory.


Cannabis dreams

After performing an unpublished study with colleague Leslie Lundahl of Wayne State University School of Medicine, Roehrs believes, that people are experiencing these dreams as a result of withdrawal. As with any substance, your sleep is affected when you quit suddenly. Referring to alcoholics, Roehrs says: “When they discontinue alcohol, they have frequent awakenings and disruptions of sleep, and they report vivid dreaming. So this might be very much parallel.”

During the study, Roehrs and Lundahl experimented with heavy cannabis users, as well as individuals, that consume less often. “In the design of the study that was being conducted, marijuana was being smoked in the morning and the afternoon, and on some days it was active marijuana, and on other days it was a placebo, 0.4 percent THC or something,” Roehrs said. And as for the active cannabis, Roehrs says, “the active marijuana was 3 percent THC." To put differently, the participants alternated between the active and placebo pot. One day they smoked the real stuff, and the next day they received the placebo pot. During the experiment, the researchers made a note of the heavier users' sleep patterns and compared it to the rest of the group that consumes cannabis less frequently.

According to Roehrs, the result showed, that “smoking the 3 percent THC marijuana relative to smoking the placebo marijuana had no effect on REM sleep”. Moreover, when comparing the sleep patterns of the two groups, he discovered, that the two had the same amount of REM sleep. However, there was a slight downfall of the unreported study. "The sleep of the heavy marijuana users was different than the sleep of the healthy normals on the placebo night”, said Roehrs. During nights that the placebo pot was used, the heavy user group “showed lower amounts of slow-wave sleep, which is that deep, restorative kind of sleep,” according to Roehrs. Also, “they also showed very poor sleep efficiency, meaning, that in the 8 hours that they spent in bed, they spent about 80 percent of the time sleeping”. However, smoking some pot seemed to improve everything. “When they got the active marijuana, their sleep efficiency was normalized,” said Roehrs.


Although Roehrs's study has yet to be published, it does explain the weirdness of dreams. As Roehrs mentioned, you remember your dreams more distinctly when you wake from REM sleep. And when you sleep through the REM cycle, chances are you won't remember much. Therefore, when you stop using cannabis as frequently or at all, you're bound to wake up during REM sleep and remember your dreams more vividly.

Ultimately, more studies need to be performed to confirm, that heavy cannabis usage interferes with dreaming. Being that the plant is becoming legal worldwide as the years pass by, there should be a definite answer to the question. Until then, people can ponder Roehr and Lundahl's research, which seems to make a lot of sense.



Written by: Brittney
A firm believer that cannabis can be a benefit to society, Brittney has enjoyed its subtleties for a long time. This love is reflected in her writing, which aims to inform, educate, and bring people together over a love of cannabis.

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Adam Parsons
Adam Parsons
Professional cannabis journalist, copywriter, and author Adam Parsons is a long-time staff member of Zamnesia. Tasked with covering a wide range of topics from CBD to psychedelics and everything in between, Adam creates blog posts, guides, and explores an ever-growing range of products.
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