How Does Weed Affect Dreams?
According to various studies, stoners actually do dream less because weed reduces REM sleep. However, if you decide to take a break from smoking, those dreams will come back with a vengeance, more vivid than ever before.
As much as we don’t enjoy doing it, most stoners need to take a smoking hiatus every once in awhile. Whether it’s for a job, pregnancy, legal issues, or just a good old tolerance break, sometimes a few-week pause is necessary. If you’ve ever been there, you might have noticed one particular side effect after a day or two away from pot – crazy dreams!
Many smokers report that their dreams are more lucid and increase in frequency when abstaining from weed. A 2008 study  stated that regular cannabis use decreases REM sleep, which is the stage in our sleep cycle when dreams occur. The report concluded a “decreased REM duration in subjects dosed with 15mg of THC as well as a THC/CBD mixture, but did not record the effects of cannabis cessation,” although it’s believed that quitting does actually lead to something called a “REM rebound.”
THE DIFFERENT STAGES OF SLEEP
While we sleep, our brains cycle through five different sleep stages, with the longest stages being deep sleep and REM sleep. Stage one is light sleep. This is when we’re still drifting in and out of consciousness and any little thing can wake us up. During stage one, you might feel sudden muscle cramps or the sensation that you’re falling.
Once we transition to stage 2, the electrical impulses in our brains slow down. During stage 3, what’s referred to as “delta waves” begin to appear with greater frequency. Delta waves are high-amplitude brain waves that originate in the thalamus or cortex and are associated with deep sleep. In stage 4, the brain is now exclusively producing delta waves and there is no eye movement or muscle activity.
Once we enter REM sleep, we finally begin to dream. Our breathing becomes irregular, heart rate increases, our eyes move rapidly in different directions and muscles become temporarily paralysed. Depending on how long we sleep, we could cycle through the REM stage quite a few times throughout the night.
A complete sleep cycle normally lasts about 100 minutes, with the first REM period starting between 70 to 90 minutes after we initially fall asleep. Early in our nightly cycles, the REM stage lasts around 10 to 20 minutes and gradually increases in length as we continue sleeping.
IS IT HEALTHY TO NOT HAVE DREAMS?
Despite the fact that REM sleep is restorative and has been linked to memory retention, there are a few benefits to skipping out on it. The main one being fewer nightmares, which is great news for PTSD patients. Nightmares, or night terrors, can prevent people from achieving a restful sleep, which can then have profound effects on waking behaviour, such as mood changes, trouble concentrating, low sex drive, weight gain and immune system suppression.
Pot’s dream-diminishing effects are extremely helpful for those who suffer from nightmares and/or insomnia. Furthermore, studies show that aside from some increased difficulty retaining information, a lack of REM sleep has little impact on our daytime behaviours, symptoms and overall health.
On the other hand, there is the possibility that cannabis doesn’t have an abstract effect on our dreams at all. Studies  do show the correlation, but there hasn’t been enough research to make a definitive conclusion yet. I can vouch for my personal experiences of intensified dreams after quitting pot, although I’ve also had some crazy dreams while smoking too. Either way, it’s worth exploring more to find out exactly how weed affects our subconscious minds.
According to various studies, cannabis reduces REM sleep. But once you stop smoking, those crazy, vivid dreams come back with a vengeance.
Here’s Why Your Dreams Are Suddenly so Intense After You Stop Smoking Weed
This article was originally published by VICE Netherlands
Maybe you, like me, decided at some point in your life that you’d had enough of soft drugs for a while. Whether this was the beginning of a smoke-free existence or just a hopeless case of hubris is irrelevant here; the point is that you stopped smoking weed for a bit. When you did, you probably also experienced a plethora of positive effects: you felt more energetic, found it easier to remember things and stopped spending 20 quid a day on cheeseburgers and Doritos.
Another thing that happens when you give up the green, doesn’t affect your wallet so much as it does your brain: That’s your dreams. A few days after I quit smoking weed for the first time, I started dreaming again and those dreams seemed more vivid than ever. I realised that as a stoner, I actually hardly ever dreamt at all, and that the few dreams I had weren’t half as intense as my dreams these days. What’s up with that?
I decided to call Dr. Hans Hamburger, neurologist, somnologist (sleep expert) and head of Holland Sleep Research – a specialist research centre for sleep disorders in the Netherlands.
According to Dr. Hamburger, this resurgence of dreams happens because weed suppresses your REM sleep. When you put your rolling papers, pipe or vapourizers away for a while, your REM sleep suddenly gets the free reign it had before you became a superficially sleeping stoner
Because I’m not a somnologist myself, I asked doctor Hamburger what REM sleep exactly is: “Every night, you go through about four or five sleep cycles. Each cycle takes about ninety minutes, during which you go through different phases. There’s superficial sleep, deep sleep and finally REM sleep. During that REM period, you have most of your dreams. You don’t usually remember your dreams if you continue sleeping. The last REM period just before you wake up takes the longest – and you’ll only remember the dreams you had in that time if you wake up during it. If you don’t wake up during the REM period, you won’t remember a thing.”
Does this mean you can’t remember anything at all when you’re sleeping? The answer seems to be no. “You only remember the things that happen while you’re awake. We don’t remember the things that happen while we are sleeping, because we’re in a lowered state of consciousness. That has something to do with the fact that when you’re asleep, you’re processing the memories of things that happened during the day and essentially filing them away in your brain.”
Dreams help you sort through the thousands of impressions and images you encounter every day. When you smoke weed regularly, that is also suppressed. Dr. Hamburger confirms this: “By smoking weed, you suppress the REM sleep, and with that you also suppress a lot of important functions of that REM sleep. One of those functions is reliving the things you have experienced and coming to terms with them, as it were. Processing all kinds of psychological influences is something you do in REM sleep. You also anticipate the things that will happen the next day or the days after that. While you’re sleeping, you already consider those and make decisions in advance.”
The less you give your brain the change to sort this shit out during REM sleep, the more dazed and confused you are during the day. This may explain why the seasoned stoner will often put off tasks and decisions until the very last minute: you failed to anticipate these issues properly, which is why you’re late filing your taxes again, or can’t remember where you left your house keys.
Alcohol, surprisingly, has the opposite effect: If you go to bed shitfaced, the phases of REM sleep last longer. That is not to say that drinking two bottles of vodka before going to bed will help you get a good night’s sleep. “Too much alcohol suppresses the deep sleep and gives you more REM sleep, but it makes you more restless and wake up more often. If you drink way too much, you’ll be twisting and turning all night and keep waking up,” says Hamburger.
Anyway, back to smoking weed. The effect weed has on your night’s rest is clear. But why are your dreams so hyper realistic and feverish after you stop smoking weed? Hamburger explains that this is called the “rebound effect”: “If you’ve been taking a drug that suppresses a certain phenomenon for a while, then that phenomenon will come back stronger when you stop using that drug. That’s what we call ‘the rebound effect’ – which is also noticeable in people who take a lot of sleeping pills. If they stop taking those, they often get very strange and intense dreams. That is also often the reason why people keep taking those sleeping pills – they become dependent on them, which is to say, addicted.”
In other words: your body goes into sprint-dream-mode, and that is why your dreams are so intense. According to Dr. Hamburger, the body recovers from the rebound effect on its own over time: “It is a temporary attempt to catch up on all the dreaming you missed when you were smoking weed. It usually goes away after two to three weeks. Your body will know when it’s all caught up and ready to go back to business as usual.”
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