There is a complicated relationship between marijuana, sleep, and dreams. On the one hand, cannabis is well-known for its sedative effects and is often used to aid those suffering from sleep disorders such as insomnia. On the other hand, regular marijuana users may find that their sleep is seriously impacted when they try to quit the herb or take a much-needed tolerance break.
For some people, this could mean something as simple as finding it harder to fall asleep without their usual nightcap. For others, it could mean that their dream world is transformed into a surreal and disturbing place. Perhaps one that they would prefer to avoid if at all possible.
Therefore, it may come as no surprise that sleep disturbances and vivid dreams are among the most common reasons for people falling off the wagon when trying to quit smoking weed. In this article, we look at how and why marijuana is making your dreams crazy, and whether there is any way to prevent it.
What are Dreams Anyway?
Humans have been intrigued by dreams since the dawn of time. The ancient Babylonians and Egyptians saw them as prophecies, while Aristotle believed that dreams were the soul living out its life during the night. He was not alone in this belief, with many ancient civilizations imagining that dreams were a result of the soul leaving the body during sleep and setting out on its own mysterious adventures.
Our obsession with dreams has continued into modern times, and many psychologists now believe that dreams are an indication of our deepest fears and desires. This school of thought originates from the infamous Sigmund Freud who published his book The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung further adapted Freud’s ideas and went on to use dream analysis as a key part of his practice.
In reality, scientists still do not fully understand why we dream and whether there is any meaning behind the images we see when we close our eyes. It is likely that dreams play a role in emotional processing, problem-solving, and memory storage. However, with their strange and sometimes moving themes, it is easy to believe that they could be something more.
The Link Between Marijuana, Sleep, and Dreams
Dreams occur in the stage of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This stage was given its name as during REM sleep your eyes move rapidly from side to side. During this stage of sleep, your muscles become paralyzed, a biological feature which keeps you safe by preventing you from acting out your dreams.
REM sleep usually occurs around 90 minutes after you fall asleep and alternates with four stages of deeper sleep known as non-REM or slow wave sleep. You go through several full sleep cycles every night, with longer and deeper periods of REM occurring toward morning.
During REM sleep, the thalamus region of your brain becomes active. It sends images and sounds to the cortex which is what results in dreams. There are also a number of chemical changes in your brain during each sleep cycle along with changes in brain waves, heart rate, and blood pressure.
This is where cannabis comes in. It is well-known for its ability to induce relaxation and promote sleep. It is also often used to relieve conditions such as anxiety and PTSD, both of which can cause poor sleep, vivid dreams, and nightmares.
These effects are due to marijuana’s influence on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) of the body. The exact way that weed influences the ECS to aid sleep is still unclear, but it is thought to be related to the way that cannabinoids like THC affect adenosine.
Adenosine is a compound that is created by the brain to slow down nerve activity, and as a side effect, it causes drowsiness. In addition to THC, marijuana also contains several other compounds which may contribute to its sedative effects; for example, an abundant terpene called myrcene.
Research on Marijuana Withdrawal and Dreams
Researchers were exploring the effects of cannabis on sleep as early as 1975. One study from this era found that THC reduced eye movement during REM sleep and to some extent reduced REM duration too. The cannabinoid also had the effect of increasing stage 4 slow wave sleep, and these effects were reversed upon withdrawal.
So, when you use cannabis regularly, you are effectively cutting down on your REM time while boosting your deeper sleep. It appears that there are no significant adverse effects to this in the short term, but if you suddenly decide to stop using weed, you could experience a rebound effect.
This is why people who quit marijuana suffer from sleep disturbances and crazy, vivid dreams. Their brains need time to reset in the absence of THC, and the problem is even more common than you might think.
A 2011 study on cannabis withdrawal symptoms found that the most commonly reported problems were sleep disturbances and nightmares or strange dreams. Strange dreams were found to be the most valid item in the study and were rated as the 10th most distressing symptom on a 26-item scale.
These results are supported by a 2015 review which found that across all studies on marijuana withdrawal and sleep, 41% of participants reported sleep disturbances and 34% reported strange dreams. These symptoms were cited as among the most common reasons why people reinstated cannabis use after trying to quit.
How to Prevent Crazy Dreams when Quitting Weed
If you have decided it’s time to kick your weed habit or just need a tolerance break, the idea of inadequate sleep and crazy dreams may be off-putting. So, is there anything that you can do to prevent these unwanted side effects?
Unfortunately, the answer is probably not. Not on the dreams front at least. Anytime you stop a regular habit, it will take time for your body and mind to adjust, and withdrawing from cannabis is no different.
The precise amount of time that it takes to withdraw from weed will vary depending on how frequently and heavily you use. Research suggests that the symptoms of sleep disturbance and strange dreams may worsen on the second day of abstinence, but how long they last will vary from person to person. Some people may not experience these symptoms at all!
The good news is that although you may not be able to prevent your crazy dreams while quitting weed, you can influence the quality of your sleep. Try to make the following habits a part of your daily routine, and you should find that your sleep improves over time.
- Go to bed and get up at around the same time each day, even at weekends
- Make your bedroom cool, comfortable, and calm
- Invest in a good mattress and comfortable bedding
- Do not eat or drink caffeinated drinks late at night
- Dim the lights in the evening
- Avoid looking at electronic screens in the hours before bedtime
- Do something relaxing before bed
Another way that you could help to improve your sleep while quitting cannabis is by using CBD oil. CBD is a naturally occurring cannabinoid but, unlike THC, it does not have intoxicating effects or get you high.
Although there is no research specifically on CBD for strange dreams and nightmares, it has been found helpful for improving sleep and reducing anxiety among its many other potential benefits. CBD has also been found useful in the treatment of addictions, so it could be the perfect companion for anybody who is struggling to stop using cannabis or other substances.
How (And Why) Marijuana is Making Your Dreams Crazy: Final Thoughts
When it comes to sleep and dreams, marijuana is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can help to relieve sleep problems but, on the other, it can cause them once you stop using it.
Crazy dreams and even nightmares are a common side effect of cannabis withdrawal and can cause many quitters to fail despite their good intentions. But, thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom.
While there might not be a whole lot you can do to stop yourself from having vivid dreams when you quit marijuana, you can at least be prepared. Knowing that this is something that might happen and that sooner or later it will pass, should be of some comfort and help you to stay strong and achieve your goal.
If you have you experienced strange dreams after quitting marijuana, we would love to hear from you. What is the craziest weed dream you have ever had? Do you have any tips for preventing them? Let us know in the comments below.