Cannabis has been used as a sleep aid for centuries. Its ability to help users relax and fall asleep is well-documented by several scientists. Even with these pieces of evidence, many people may not know that cannabis can also affect our dreams. Specifically, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has been shown to alter the dream state in various ways. This blog shall discuss the connection between cannabis and dreaming, including how THC affects our sleep patterns and the potential benefits and drawbacks of using cannabis as a sleep aid.
The Stages of Sleep
Before we delve into the effects of THC on our dreams, it’s important to understand the different stages of sleep. There are five stages of sleep, which are divided into two main categories: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. NREM sleep is further divided into four stages, with the fourth stage being the deepest stage of sleep.
The first stage, called N1, is the shortest and lasts up to five minutes. During this stage, our body gradually transitions from wakefulness to sleep.
The second stage, N2, lasts between 25 and 60 minutes. In this stage, the body temperature and heart rate start to drop, indicating a deeper sleep.
The third stage is the deepest sleep stage, which is difficult to wake up from. Loud noises up to 100 decibels may not rouse a person from this stage.
However, if one does wake up, one might experience some mental fogginess, also called sleep inertia. The third stage typically lasts up to 40 minutes.
The fourth and final stage of the sleep cycle is REM, during which dreams often occur. REM sleep is the stage where we experience the most vivid and memorable dreams. Breathing becomes more irregular during this stage, typically lasting between 10 and 60 minutes.
THC and REM Sleep
Research has shown that THC can affect our sleep patterns by reducing the time spent in REM sleep. A 2017 study shows that THC reduced the amount of REM sleep in participants. This reduction was particularly significant during the first two sleep cycles, indicating that THC has a stronger effect on the beginning of the night’s sleep.
Interestingly, when individuals stop using cannabis, they may experience a rebound effect, where the body attempts to catch up on lost REM sleep, leading to more intense and vivid dreams. This may explain why some users report experiencing more vivid dreams after stopping cannabis use.
THC and NREM Sleep
While THC has been shown to reduce the amount of time spent in REM sleep, it may also increase the amount of time spent in NREM sleep. NREM sleep is important for physical restoration and growth, making it essential for athletes and those with physically demanding jobs. Additionally, some studies have shown that THC can increase slow-wave sleep, the deepest stage of NREM sleep. Slow-wave sleep is important for cognitive restoration and is necessary for memory consolidation.
Many cannabis users have reported experiencing altered dreams after consuming THC. Some users report having no dreams, while others have more vivid and intense dreams. One possible explanation for these experiences is the effect of THC on the neurotransmitter system, which can affect the frequency and intensity of dreams.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Cannabis as a Sleep Aid
The use of cannabis as a sleep aid has both potential benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand, THC can help users relax and fall asleep more quickly, making it a popular choice for those with insomnia or other sleep disorders. Additionally, the increased time spent in slow-wave sleep may lead to better physical and cognitive restoration, essential for overall health.
However, reducing REM sleep may have negative consequences for some users. REM sleep is important for emotional regulation and memory consolidation, making it essential for individuals with depression, anxiety, or PTSD. Additionally, the vivid dreams experienced during the REM stage may be important for creativity and problem-solving, making their reduction potentially detrimental to individuals who rely on these abilities for work or other endeavors.
Maximizing the Effectiveness of Cannabis as a Sleep Aid
CBD and THC are the most studied compounds in the cannabis plant. THC, particularly in higher-stress strains, has a dose-dependent effect on sleep. It binds to CB1 receptors in the central nervous system and can lead to reduced sleep onset time, increased slow-wave sleep, and longer total sleep duration at lower doses. However, higher doses can decrease total rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and REM density.
CBD, the second most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis, can have a dual effect on sleep onset time. It can be stimulating at lower doses but more sedative at higher doses. It can increase total sleep duration and reduce nighttime arousal. While evidence suggests that cannabis may improve sleep onset time in the short term, further research is needed to fully understand its effects on sleep.
For those who choose to use cannabis as a sleep aid, there are a few things to keep in mind to maximize its effectiveness. First, it’s important to choose a strain high in THC, as this compound has been shown to have the most significant effects on sleep. Additionally, it’s best to consume cannabis about an hour before bedtime for its effects to kick in.
It’s also important to start with a low dose and gradually increase it over time. This will help prevent unwanted side effects, such as grogginess or difficulty waking up in the morning. It’s also recommended to use cannabis in conjunction with other sleep-promoting techniques, such as a consistent sleep schedule, a relaxing bedtime routine, and avoiding screens before bedtime.
The relationship between cannabis and sleep is complex and multifaceted. THC has been shown to affect both REM and NREM sleep, with potential benefits and drawbacks for users. It’s worth noting that although cannabis can be an effective sleep aid for some individuals, it may not work for everyone. While cannabis can be an effective sleep aid for some individuals, it’s important to use it responsibly and in conjunction with other sleep-promoting techniques.