Does Cannabis Affect Dreams?

Woman Dreaming on Floating Bed
Photo by: Yuganov Konstantin/Shutterstock

I've been freaking my husband out. Every once in a while I'll have a chain of vivid dreams that seem like a continuing story. I would tell him every day about these dreams. I've dreamt before, but these were extremely creepy. Of course, like most people I brushed them off... until one came true. Then another. He couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe. This brought me to an age-old stoner question: Are cannabis dreams different than regular dreams?  

Let's gets serious. The focus is marijuana, the popular side of cannabis. 

The short answer? No.  

I found out my medication was the cause of my vivid dreams. But the thought of cannabis affecting dreams didn't seem far-fetched. Mind-altering drugs are typically psychotropic and have some effect on the brain. Marijuana is no different 

So could using it have any effect on dreams? Let's look at the facts. 

R.E.M. Sleep 

Dreaming occurs during REM (rapid eye movement), an interval of sleep that involves rapid eye moment (duh), quicker pulse, and faster breathing. REM sleep only makes up 25% of the sleep process and is completed in four stages.  

During REM, the brain and body are energized with signals being sent throughout the brain and stimulating it. Each cycle is deeper than the last. A theory that has been tossed around is that during REM, memories, learning, and mood are balanced and processed. 

The signals sent during REM hit the cerebral cortex and the spinal cord region. The cerebral cortex is the largest region of the brain, playing a key part in memory, attention, perception, cognition, thought, and consciousness, among others. The spinal cord's job is to regulate body movement.  

These nerve signals are so random that no one can really conclude how much is affected and where without a proper study. 

One random signal and you could be kicking your partner in the leg, or ? like me ? dropping an elbow to their face while asleep. Cannabis dreams can be tricky things.   

Marijuana and the Brain While Asleep 

The cannabinoids in cannabis stimulate the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) in a human body. While receptors are found throughout the brain and nervous system, most are focused in thhippocampus, neocortex, cerebellum, and basal ganglia. These regions have the binding sites the receptors are looking for.  

So yes. They both affect the brain by stimulating areas.  

Where am I going with this, you ask? 

I'm sure most readers know how marijuana affects them, although people will have different experiences. But what everyone can agree on is that marijuana has certain mind-altering effects, whether miniscule or intensive.   

An experience of euphoria and other heightened senses may occur. Many consumers will tell you that a conversation on weed can get deeper than it would without it. Enlightened thoughts are vividly traded with similar responses. Memories once lost in the back of the mind punch through.  

People also say that it could change one's perspective on things as the mind becomes more open to know what it doesn't really know.  

All of this deriving from the cerebral cortex. 

If some strains of marijuana energize the brain and body, and REM sleep is doing the same thing in the same area, there's got to be a heightened connection, right? 

Cannabis Dreams Are Wonderful Things 

study was done in 1975 trying to answer the question of whether or not cannabis and dreams were affected by one another. Dr. Feinberg and his colleagues provided a study using marijuana consumers and placebo products. What he had found was no one foretold the future. 

His actual answer on whether cannabis and dreams affect one another was yes.  

The conclusion to his study is that marijuana use slows down the REM process, which slows down the signals that REM creates. Slight changes are made in the first three stages, but the fourth stage is where deep sleep occurs. It's also where marijuana use affects sleep the most. 

Prolonging time in a deep sleep diminishes REM, which is where dreaming takes place. Marijuana enhances deep sleep and may seem like a great idea, but all great ideas come at a cost. This cost is dreaming.  

Just thinking about this makes me want to sleep. A deep, marijuana-induced sleep. 

He also concludes that once a person stops consuming marijuana, their REM cycle will bounce back, increasing signals and causing more activity in the area where they are concentrated. Dreams seem to be more vivid at that point. But still, no premonitions. 

So Does Using Cannabis Affect Dreams? 

Man with Head in Clouds
Photo by: frankie’s/Shutterstock
There’s definitely a slight possibility, though don't get any hopes of seeing a glowing figure leading you to your destiny.  

I know, you're disappointed 

The combination of REM sleep and use of cannabis affects dreams by affecting the brain. If marijuana is still stimulating the brain while the brain is being stimulated during REM, at some point the signals could collide. This collision may have a drastic reaction or none at all.  

Most likely, it will not happen at all, especially since the cerebral cortex is the outermost layer of the brain, which covers the largest part of it. Signals are going everywhere. 

Again, the signals occurring during REM sleep are random and do make up just a quarter of someone's sleep. While marijuana stays in the system for a longer time, its short-term effect will dissipate as sleep continues. REM sleep becomes deeper it progresses. Both processes are going in another direction.  

It's important to keep in mind that very little is known about dreaming and why it actually happens. Fixation on the topic has been seen as far back as the time of Greek mythology. Morpheus, the god of dreams, born of Nyx, the personification of Night, is a good place to start. 

As of now, this decision has no clear answer to how it would affect the actual dream. It's just known that marijuana can affect the REM process, the place where dreams are made. 

But who knows? Both signals could merge together and go to the same place. It just needs that perfect storm.