As you may know, cannabinoids play an important role in sleep cycles and may have several beneficial effects such as facilitating sleepiness, improving sleep continuity, providing more restorative nights and increasing alertness when awakening. If that’s the purpose, an Indica or hybrid variety with Indica dominant consumed in moderate dose before bed will make you fall into the arms of Morpheus and allow you take full advantage of the relaxing and sedative properties of the plant.
Nevertheless, many report that cannabis use affects their ability to dream - a quick Google search will bring up some testimonials about it -, a fact corroborated by some studies suggesting that the substance acts as an inhibitor on dreams. Thus, the mechanisms by which the plant influences our states of drowsiness are extremely complex and still far from being fully understood, and while sleep and a healthy lifestyle go hand in hand, we suggest we have a deeper look into it. But first, put a notebook on your bedside table to keep a diary of your dreams: writing them will stimulate your oniric memory and help understand this sometimes mysterious voice of your unconscious.
A CYCLICAL MODE
Every night, we progress through four to six successive sleep cycles lasting about 90 minutes each and consisted of two phases differentiated by a variation in cerebral activity, eye movement, and muscular tension. The whole process begins with different stages of slow waves in which the body isolates itself sensorially and gradually releases the bodily responses, passing from the awakened state to the superficial sleep until attaining deep sleep. The latter stage is the most important for the organism in that it allows physical and energetic recovery while promoting the regeneration of tissues.
The second phase is known as REM sleep - from “Rapid Eye Movement” - and is associated with concept learning, memory building, and neuronal reorganization. Ocular movements accelerate during this phase, partly due to the brain wave patterns which approach those observed during the awakening state, with the only difference that the stimulations come from the mind rather than our senses. Dream activity will mostly occur during this phase, although it is possible that it occasionally breaks through during the previous non-REM phases. More importantly, you’ll need to wake up to remember your dreams, hence the importance of quickly noting them when it happens.
THE EFFECTS OF THE PLANT ON DREAMS
What about when we use cannabis then? It is commonly accepted by the scientific community and the general population that a regular use, despite being responsible - by which we mean an awareness of the frequency and quantities consumed while remaining attentive to the impact it has on overall health -, lead to an increase in deep sleep against a decrease in paradoxical sleep, thereby altering our ability to dream. Nevertheless, the literature on this issue is still weak, mostly dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, with sampling that often lacks rigor. Not to mention a widely cited 2008 study about the effects of illicit recreational drugs on sleep, but which treats ganja on the same level as cocaine and ecstasy. In sum, these statements may seem premature in light of the evidence available.
More recent research tends to question these findings, a good example being those conducted by The Henry Ford Sleep Disorders and Research Center and led by Dr. Timothy Roehrs. In a placebo-controlled study reported in a NY Mag article, the latter observed changes in sleep following cannabis use: the resting state of the participants - all regular users - was recorded and compared with data from a same age control group not under psychotropic substances. To achieve this, a dose containing 3% THC was administered twice daily, alternating day-to-day with a 0.4% active agents placebo.
Although the study is awaiting official publication, the so far results show there is no variation in the amount of paradoxical sleep in patients, irrespective of the amount of THC consumed. Either under cannabis or placebo, the figures are comparable to those of the control group. However, there was a significant difference in their quality of sleep as participants slept an average of 80% of the eight hours spent in bed after consuming the placebo. This number is according to Rohers symptomatic of a state of insomnia and thereby lower than the one obtained by the same subjects on the nights they consumed THC.
This aspect could explain in itself the rebound effect associated with the experience of intense and vivid dreams once someone stopped using the plan. As sleep is lighter, consumers are more likely to get disturbed during their REM phase and therefore more subject to wake up. At the extreme opposite, sleeping through your paradoxical sleep reduces the memories we have of them, suggesting that the consumption of cannabis might not necessarily directly alter our ability to dream.
TOWARDS MORE LUCID DREAMS?
Again, it is important to remember that the symptoms can vary from one individual to another. This is also true with dreams as they remain inaccessible to some whether or not there are psychotropic drugs in play. But as with anything else, it is possible to awaken one's faculties and, as mentioned earlier, those interested in the scope of their dreams should rigorously record their nocturnal experiences. And above all, go for moderate consumption that will allow you to enjoy the benefits of the plant without plunging into a lethargic state both day or night. About that, check out our article on micro-dosing to learn more about this growing method of consumption.
All in all, the knowledge of the subject seems to be at the moment quite subjective and deserves more of our attention. Some even see in cannabis a tool that would facilitate the exploration of lucid dreams - during which the dreamer is fully aware of his altered state - as they both stimulate the frontal cortex of the brain. The hypotheses are so to speak diametrically opposed, proof that the possible avenues are manifold. And with the legalization knocking at our doors, understanding the effects seems to us primordial to accompany the population into a responsible and beneficial consumption.