Can cannabis affect your sleep and dreams?

We often hear that cannabis helps with insomnia, but at the same time, stoners mention that they do not remember most of their dreams. Come dive deep within the realms of dreams and sleep  with us!

Our sleep is an extremely important moment – not only for the relaxation and rest of our body, but for our mind. It has to do with our quality of life, humor, besides being basically the time to consolidate memories and open the doors to our unconscious. We dive deep to understand our desires and deal with fears and concerns, especially in this context of the global pandemic in which we are living. While many people report an increase in vivid dreams, others cannot even sleep properly and end up using cannabis as a solution for insomnia. But how can that affect them in the long run?

Time to open the doors of our mind and find out more about this incredible relationship between our body and our favorite little plant. Shall we understand how cannabis interacts with our sleep and dreams? Come with us!

After all, what are dreams?

Much talked about, not so much understood: dreams have always been involved by mysticism. They appear as visions in the literature of different religions, whether in Christianity, with Joseph dreaming of Mary, or in Buddhism, with Sidarta Gautama dreaming of his destiny. The Professor of Neuroscience and Vice-Director of the Brain Institute at UFRN, Bachelor of Biological Sciences from the University of Brasília, Master of Biophysics from UFRJ, Doctor of Animal Behavior from Rockefeller University with Post-Doctorate in Neurophysiology from Duke University, Sidarta Ribeiro, states that they are a mixture of the past, the present and the future, and bring up experiences, desires, fears, patterns of behavior and various other elements of our psyche. They can still indicate symptoms of psychological distress – especially now, during the pandemic, with lots of uncertainness about our future.

The interesting thing is that 80% of our dreams happen during the REM phase of our sleep. This phase lasts about 10 minutes and usually starts 90 minutes after we fall asleep. At this stage, the eyes move quickly, and the heart rate increases. The brain is super active, even while we sleep, that’s  when the loose images and sparse thoughts of light sleep become practically a movie – as Sidarta explains. In addition, dopamine is released in the brain, which tells us that dreams also have to do with the mechanism of rewards and punishments in our mind, and not just with the consolidation of memories, as many believe. This plot, therefore, has a lot to do with a desire or a fear. An objective, which may or may not be achieved.

Cannabis flower

But what does cannabis have to do with it?

When we talk about sleep, it is important to note that we have other very important steps. Non-REM sleep (NREM) comes in three phases: N1 sleep, which is when you are just napping, going from waking to sleep; sleep N2, which occurs when you transition from one sleep stage to another; and the N3, also called slow wave sleep (SWS), which is “the most restorative physically and mentally”. It is not yet known exactly what REM sleep brings beyond dreams – but, for whatever reason, we spend about 20% of our sleep on this cycle, which justifies questions about its importance and the impact that cannabis can have in him.

Research shows that cannabis is an extremely effective tool to fight insomnia, both to get to sleep and to stay asleep. The substance decreases sleep latency and promotes the N3 phase, responsible for the sensation of rest. However, there are also studies that show a relationship between cannabis use and decreased REM sleep. With the decrease in REM sleep, we also have a sleep period with fewer dreams – or, at least, more unlikely.

There are many theories about REM sleep and its role in the processing of information and emotions, but its importance in our day-to-day lives is still unclear. Subjects who sleep nights without REM do not appear to have many short-term sequelae beyond loss of the most vivid dreams. In addition to cannabis, there are other substances responsible for REM sleep deprivation, such as some antidepressants, for example.

But that does not mean that cognition cannot be affected in other, deeper ways. UK research has established a link between REM sleep and the retention of information and skills, so decreasing it can lead to some cognitive impairments, especially in developing brains. If they create problems in the long run, we still lack information about.

However, the sequences of other sleep cycles are essential for our health. Therefore, much is said about cannabis for the treatment of insomnia, night terrors and other disorders that can affect them.

How cannabis can help insomniacs

In certain dosages, THC can help patients fall asleep more easily – especially for those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), insomnia, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis or other autoimmune conditions that affect the nervous system, as it acts relieving symptoms that hinder relaxation. In addition, the aforementioned lack of REM sleep caused by cannabis use can help some cases of PTSD, as it prevents the recovery of traumatic memories and the nightmares that follow.

Also, cannabis can stimulate the release of neurotransmitters that elevate mood and help promote emotional well-being. All of this happens due to our old known Endocannabinoid System, which has a fundamental role in regulating functions such as sleep, appetite, mood and several others. The use of the plant helps to balance these endocannabinoids – mainly anandamide, which has a direct action on our rest patterns.

But it is necessary to remember: not all cannabis is the same, and not all strains have the ideal properties to help in this process! So we need to know exactly what we are consuming to treat a specific symptom.

Popularly, it is believed that the more Indica strains tend to induce more sedative effects, while the more Sativa strains are known to be energizing. While this can often be true, this should not be the only basis for your choice! In fact, it may have more to do with the way your body interacts with the cannabinoids present in the chosen plant. We recommend watching the ones that work best for you at bedtime, and always look for similar profiles.

Joint and wine

Keeping up with the terpenes

While we cannot say with any certainty in the world which cannabinoid profile will help you, specifically, to have the best night’s sleep of your life, we can tell you some terpenes to keep an eye on when this is the your objective:

  • Terpinolene, also found in lilacs and apples, is a slightly unusual terpene. Usually present in small quantities, it can be found in some strains richer in THC and has a sedative effect.

Some of the varieties with terpinolene include Jack Herer, Orange Cookies and Dutch Treat.

  • Myrcene is a terpene also found in other fruits and herbs, such as mangoes, lemongrass and basil. It has sedative, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.

Some strains with a high myrcene content are White Widow, Jack Herer and Pure Kush.

  • Caryophyllene, present in cloves, rosemary and hops, is great for helping to relieve stress, as well as relieving pain and inflammation.

You find it in varieties like Cookies Girl Scout, Sour Diesel and Bubba Kush.

What are the main risks of cannabis related to insomnia

A big problem of relying on cannabis for sleep is precisely tolerance: as we use the plant, our body acquires some resistance to its effects. That’s why long-term users need a much larger amount than someone who just smokes regularly.

In addition, if you use cannabis to treat insomnia symptoms for a long time without breaks, you may have problems in the future. A 2008 sleep study found that interrupting long-term use resulted in less sleep, less slow wave sleep, worse sleep efficiency, longer sleep onset, shorter REM cycles and more sleep disruption in abstainers than the drug-free control group. However, the researchers recognize that these findings are limited by a small sample size and an inability to determine the cause. In other words, it is possible that the study subjects used cannabis to treat pre-existing insomnia and the interruption of use caused a resurgence of symptoms.

But then cannabis really makes you not dream?

The studies we found show us there is a possibility that cannabis makes you dream less.  But there is also a kind of “rebound effect” if you want to stop, or take a short break from treatment to return to normal tolerance. In this period without using cannabis, you can experience even more vivid and crazy dreams!

Other interesting factors

The effects of cannabis on the sleep experience can vary due to several factors in addition to the terpenes and cannabinoids present in the plant: it is also necessary to observe the dose, the set and the setting:

  • It can take up to 90 minutes to feel the effects of an edible, but the breeze can last for up to ten (!) hours;

  • Anyone who smokes or vaporizes cannabis can begin to feel its effects within five minutes, but it starts to pass in about two hours;

  • The dyes usually start working within 15 minutes. Its effects can be felt faster if it is placed under the tongue rather than just swallowed, and can last from two to six hours.

  • Especially now, during the pandemic, be careful what and how to use it – always prioritize your health.

As in many other cases, it is important to have follow-up and know what you are consuming! While a dose of cannabis can be healthy for one person’s sleep, it can disrupt another person’s. Our body works in an unique way.

And, if you are one of those people who have dreams full of life and movement, we bring you an idea – which was also given by Sidarta Ribeiro: how about waking up, remembering the images and sensations experienced during sleep and writing them down in a diary? This is a wonderful way to better understand what is in your unconscious, whether for an interpretation of you or a professional – like therapists and analysts. Self-knowledge is one of the best ways to learn to deal with our emotions, and our dreams are closely linked to them.

Have you noticed any changes in relation to your sleep and dreams with cannabis use? Tell us here!

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