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Cannabis & Dreaming
For years, the cannabis community has circulated an urban legend claiming that daily marijuana use decreases or even eliminates dreaming. Could chronic cannabis consumption cause a dramatic dip in dreaming during sleep? Or is this just another manifestation of misinformation resulting from nearly a century of pot prohibition in the United States?
A range of peer-reviewed research studies has investigated the subject of cannabis (and cannabinoids) and sleep—sometimes delving into the realm of dream generation and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. REM is the sleep stage during which most dreaming occurs.
Cannabis & Dreaming Studies
Cannabis & Dreaming. A number of studies conducted during the past half century have helped researchers, patients, and their caregivers better understand the potential effect of regular marijuana consumption on dreaming and, to a greater extent, sleep.
Cannabis & Dreaming: 1972 Study
A 1972 study entitled "Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and Synhexl: Effects on Human Sleep" that was published in the journal Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics explored "the effects of orally administered tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on both undisturbed and experimentally altered (by rapid eye movement [REM] deprivation) sleep patterns of young adult male volunteers."
The researchers concluded that their study data demonstrated "increments in Stage 4 [deep] sleep and decrements in REM sleep."
Cannabis & Dreaming: 1975 Study
A 1975 human trial study entitled "Effects of High Dosage Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol on Sleep Patterns" that was published in the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics investigated delta-9 THC consumption and its effect on sleep and sleep patterns.
The researchers studied seven patients and found that "administration of THC significantly reduced eye movement activity during sleep with rapid eye movements (REM) and, to a lesser extent, the duration of REM itself."
Cannabis & Dreaming: 2004 Study
A 2004 human trial study entitled "Effect of D-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol on Nocturnal Sleep and Early-Morning Behavior in Young Adults" that was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology explored "the effects of cannabis extracts on nocturnal sleep, early morning performance, memory, and sleepiness."
The double-blind and placebo-controlled study (neither the participants nor the researchers knew who was receiving CBD and THC and who was given a placebo) observed eight adults (four male, four female). Performance, sleep latency, and subjective assessments of sleepiness and mood were measured.
Like the previous studies cited in this article, this scientific investigation found that administration of THC resulted in decreased REM sleep. Decreased REM time would, in theory, at least, decrease dreaming.
Like the previous studies cited in this article, the scientific investigation found that administration of THC resulted in decreased REM sleep. Decreased REM time would, in theory at least, decrease dreaming.
Cannabis & Dreaming: 2008 Study
An arguably biased 2008 study entitled "Effect of Illicit Recreational Drugs Upon Sleep" that was published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews explored the overall effects of a number of drugs, including cannabis, on human sleep.
The researchers echoed previous studies by reporting that "smoked marijuana and oral Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) reduce REM sleep." It also reported that "acute administration" of cannabis may help consumers to fall asleep and may increase deep sleep.
Cannabis & Dreaming: 2021 Study
A 2021 study entitled "Are Sweet Dreams Made of These? Understanding the Relationship Between Sleep and Cannabis Use" that was published in the journal Cannabis & Cannabinoid Research explored the effects of cannabis on sleep.
The study, not a clinical trial but instead a literature review that surveyed and analyzed previous studies on the topic, reported that the mechanisms underlying the effects of cannabis and sleep remain largely misunderstood. "Several factors lead to inconsistencies in this relationship, suggesting a nuanced interaction between cannabis and sleep," reported the study's authors.
The research identified 31 previous studies regarding the association between cannabis use and sleep. "The findings from these studies were mixed," reported the scientists.
The research identified 31 previous studies that investigated the association between cannabis use and sleep. "The findings from these studies were mixed," reported the scientists. They found cannabis use to be associated "with a variety of impacts on sleep ranging from beneficial effects, such as reduced sleep-onset latency, to negative outcomes, such as reduced sleep duration and suppressed rapid eye movement oscillations."
Despite the study's title, its abstract (summary) made no reference to dreaming other than "suppressed REM," which previous studies attributed to possibly causing a decrease in dreaming.
Cannabis & Dreaming Conclusions
Cannabis & Dreaming. Additional research and clinical trials are necessary to better understand the effects of cannabis on sleep and, more specifically, the dreaming process. The takeaway for students is that cannabis consumption, especially directly before sleep or on a daily basis or in relatively large volumes, may decrease REM sleep.
The lack of definitive research data on this topic makes achieving any solid conclusions difficult or impossible.
Because REM sleep is where most dreaming occurs, less REM may equal fewer dreams. The lack of definitive research data on this topic makes achieving any solid conclusions difficult or impossible.
Research points toward a mechanism in which cannabis consumption increases one's time in deep sleep (the most restorative stage of sleep). Because more time is spent in deep sleep, there is less time for REM and, thus, fewer dreams.
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