Why Do Cannabis Consumers Struggle to Remember Dreams?

Cannabis consumers are very aware of the deep sleep cannabis can induce. It is even considered a great way to help manage insomnia and provide a good night's rest. But why can we barely remember our dreams?

remember dreams

Sleep is hard to come by for many, but if you smoke weed this likely isn’t an issue you’re dealing with. It can provide a deep and peaceful sleep, but marijuana seems to prevent us from remembering our dreams. Why is this so?

You may have noticed that since you started consuming cannabis, it seems to have wiped out dreams almost entirely. And if you’ve taken a break from cannabis you may have noticed your dreams returning quite a lot more vividly. 

The Key is REM Sleep

The key to all of this is REM sleep. This is ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ sleep, where the eyes are closed but the eyes are active. This is the stage where dreams are most likely to take place as the brain is working faster and our consciousness is more active. REM sleep makes up for 20-25% of total sleep time and usually precedes wakefulness. This also explains why we can remember dreams if we wake up in the middle of REM sleep. 

Researchers and scientists alike are under the impression that our brains process all the information from throughout the day while we are sleeping. This requires us to simulate the physical and mental environment of these experiences as dreams. The brain does this by making us think we are awake even though we are aware that the happenings of our dreams can’t always be true. 

Between Deep Sleep and REM Sleep

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) published a study which discovered that high doses of THC limit the chances of dreams occurring. They also found that THC reduces REM sleep and increases deep sleep, which happens just before and has a restorative impact on our bodies. 

To conduct their study, they used two groups who were given cannabis and placebo respectively, with those in the second group experiencing less deep sleep. “They also showed very poor sleep efficiency, meaning that in the 8 hours that they spent in bed, they slept about 80 percent of the time”, according to Timothy Roehrs, a sleep expert at the Henry Ford Health System and a researcher from Wayne State University School of Medicine.

More studies have looked into cannabis and the impact on sleep, particularly the increase of deep sleep with reduced REM sleep. What all seem to have acknowledged is not that we dream less, but THC makes it more difficult to remember these dreams. It has also been noted that high amounts of THC could potentially cause dreams and nightmares which it then prevents us from remembering. Even though the brain and consciousness are active during REM sleep, it is at a much lower rate. 

It’s a scenario where cannabis can reward us with a better night’s rest, but the catch is that you may not be able to remember your dreams. This may be getting rid of the good dreams, but is also preventing nightmares from taking place. 

Cannabis’ Impact on Dreams

Some may not be too bothered by losing their dreams in exchange for a bedtime joint, but others may want them back. So is there a way to bring your dreams back without giving up cannabis consumption? 

So far all answers point to no. Turning to CBD or CBD rich cannabis strains don’t seem to have any opposing effects to THC. One workaround could be to consume cannabis a couple of hours before bed so the effects aren’t so strong while sleeping. Although this is not likely to bring back vivid dreams, they would still be vague but more memorable. Taking THC earlier would also mean that it stops taking effect earlier, possibly negatively affecting your sleep later into the night. 

Bringing Back Dreams

At the moment, the only way to bring back those vivid dreams would be to stop consuming cannabis. This might bring your dreams back stronger than before, as quitting cannabis seems to have the opposite effect and boost REM sleep while decreasing deep sleep. 

Several personal factors and differences between individuals comes into play when it comes to the return of dreams. Individuals will experience differences in the quality and quantity of returning dreams, with some finding them more intense than before or others noticing a return back to their original dream state. 

Neurologist and head of sleep research centre in Holland, Doctor Hans Hamburger, believes that the resurgence of dreams amongst those who have quit cannabis is quite normal. He says that “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”. He further compares this effect to what happens when people consume a lot of sleeping pills no longer take them – with their dreams also becoming more frequent and a higher intensity. 

Less REM Sleep and More Deep Sleep is a Better Sleep

Essentially cannabis lessens REM sleep and increases deep sleep. During deep sleep (or no REM / NREM) neuronal activity decreases and the brain enters a maintenance state which helps the body regenerate overnight. These restorative functions can be seen as successful if you are waking up fresh and relaxed the next morning. 

Cannabinol (CBN) may also be quite important in these cases. This cannabinoid is produced when THC is degraded, such as in the instance that cannabis is harvested and cured, and THC loses its properties and slowly converts into CBN. This may be beneficial in small doses, as studies suggest that 5mg of CBD may be as effective as 10mg of sleep aids. 

If you decide that you would like to give up cannabis in exchange for dreams, you may need to wait for 2 to 3 weeks before your dreams return to their more normal state and your ability to remember them again. 

Alternatively, if dreams aren’t more important than a nights rest, you can keep on consuming cannabis. 

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