Did you know that during a typical lifespan, a person spends a total of about six years dreaming?

When I was younger I would often start and then stop consuming cannabis, mainly because cannabis was harder to acquire back then, even growing up in Oregon.

Whenever I consumed cannabis, my dreams would be less frequent and vivid. And when I would stop consuming, my dreams would become more frequent and much more intense.

For the longest time I thought this was something that happened to only me. But as I shared my experiences with others, I discovered I was not alone.

Many people who are new to cannabis have expressed concerns on forums and social media about whether or not cannabis’ affect on their dreams is detrimental.

Let's dive into this and see if there really is cause for concern.

What is dreaming?

Scientists believe that at night, memories from the day which are stored in the hippocampus, are then transferred to the cerebral cortex, so that we process this information and knowledge.

Everyone dreams while they are in a deep sleep. The emerging view amongst neuroscientists is that dreams are related to 'memory consolidation' happening in the brain during sleep.

While a person is going about their day, their brain is capturing 'episodic events' (memories of events) in a part of the brain called the hippocampus.

The current understanding is that at night the brain moves these memories from the hippocampus to the cerebral cortex during a phase of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM).

The REM phase of sleep is the last of five consecutive phases a person typically experiences while they sleep.

Scientists believe that this transfering of memories during the REM phase results in dreams.

How does cannabis affect REM?

REM sleep is immediately preceded by PGO (ponto-geniculo-occipital) waves, which are bursts of electrical activity originating in the brain stem, and are a cause of the "rapid eye movements" in paradoxical sleep - also known as REM.

There are countless personal testimonies from people who say cannabis helps them go to sleep faster, and sleep better. And since dream frequency and intensity is tied to the REM phase of sleep, the logical next question is 'how does cannabis affect REM?'

It is generally accepted in the scientific community that regular cannabis use does affect the REM phase of a person's sleep pattern.

Several studies conducted in the 1970's measured and recorded such things as brain waves, eye movements, and muscle tone while cannabis consumers slept.

These studies found cannabis to be associated with a reduction in REM sleep, however more intensive studies are needed to truly get to the bottom of this. We have to measure variables such as dosage amount, cannabinoid levels, and even ingestion method.

Today, I personally experience no reduction in dreaming frequency or intensity when I consume a lot of cannabis, or a little cannabis, or even when I take tolerance breaks.

That wasn't the case when I was younger, but has become the norm for me personally now that I'm older (I'm 35 years old).

Other people I know say their dreams' intensity and frequency turns off and on like a faucet when they consume cannabis or refrain from consuming cannabis.

To make matters more complicated, some studies have even shown that dreams can be magnified when REM sleep is reduced.

It's truly a person-to-person situation, but for most people cannabis consumption correlates to less dreaming, or at least less recall of those dreams when the person wakes up.

Is there something wrong with not dreaming as much?

Did you know you will only remember the dreams you had in the last REM phase of your sleep if you wake up during it? If you don’t awaken during this last REM phase, you won't remember your dreams.  

Scientists disagree as to how important dreams are to a person's overall health. Currently, the studies rely on a lot of subjective reasoning.

If you have noticed changes in your dream patterns, know that this reduction in REM sleep is not permanent or uncommon.

It's also worth mentioning a concept referred to as 'REM rebound' in which a person's brain will essentially make up for lost time. Basically, if you have less REM sleep one night, your brain will experience more REM sleep the next night, assuming you don't consume cannabis. 

This is why dreams during a tolerance break can get quite intense for some people.

If your dreams seem to be more frequent and vivid when you don't consume cannabis, there is nothing to worry about. What you are experiencing is very common.

Also, if your dreams seem to be less frequent and less intense when you are consuming cannabis, this is common too. 

The important thing is to know the current science behind dreams and how cannabis interacts with them and that we also need to advance that research if we want to know more. As with anything in the cannabis world, the more you know about the science, the more comfortable you will likely be with the situation!

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