Why am I having intense dreams after I quit smoking? Symptoms of THC withdrawal explained.
Many long term users of marijuana products report having strange, vivid and even nightmarish dreams which begin shortly after stopping THC consumption.
We discuss here one of the few side effects of long term cannabis use and why you might be having dreams that are emotionally intense when you stop smoking.
Does Smoking Weed Change How You Sleep?
Consumption of high THC cannabis products have been shown to affect what is known as sleep architecture. In this post we explain what that is, and how cannabis use, and disuse causes changes in your sleep architecture.
Sleep Architecture is the amount of time it takes to achieve, and stay in each of the 4 major stages of sleep.
As we fall asleep we are entering Stage 1.
Stage 1 is characterized by slowed breathing and heart rate. Known as the hypnagogic state, this is an in-between stage of waking and sleep.
Stage 2 sleep is the deep relaxation phase right before slow-wave sleep (SWS) characterized by brain wave spikes known as sleep spindles. These are thought to be the evidence of new memories starting to be gathered and consolidated.
Stage 3 or Slow-wave sleep (SWS) is the deepest non-rapid eye movement (NREM) phase of sleeping and is considered an explicit memory consolidation phase. Explicit memories are facts and events gathered through personal experiences.
"The effects of cannabinoid administration on sleep: a systematic review of human studies" - A clinical review paper of 39 different manuscripts states:
"...the evidence indicates that following cannabis use there may be a decrease in slow wave sleep (SWS) times and a corresponding increase in time spent in stage 2 sleep."
This means consumption of THC causes the sleeper to spend more time in stage two and less time in stage three sleep.
But there's still another stage, during which you dream the most- and that is REM Cycle.
The last phase of sleep is the rapid eye movement or REM phase.
The REM cycle is also known as paradoxical sleep because it is when the brain is most active, but the body is completely paralyzed as we experience dreams.
At this stage, the brain is also consolidating memories, but they are thought to be more emotional in nature.
During REM is when the brain incorporates even more information in a final push of consolidation making this phase very important for memory and learning.
Abrupt withdrawal led to extremely high densities of eye movement, increased rapid eye movement (REM) durations, and a sharp but transient fall in stage 4 to baseline levels.
This brings us to:
REM cycle rebound.
REM Cycle Rebound - Cannabis Withdrawal Symptom
Many heavy THC consumers report having little or no dreams during use. For some, this seems to change after THC consumption halts.
One of the most notable withdrawal symptoms for some cannabis users who take a break from THC is the onset of vivid and often very emotional dreams.
In the sleep community this is known as REM rebound.
"Several experimental studies utilizing EEG and hormonal measurements have illustrated that human and animal participants who experience sleep deprivation or significant stressors will experience increased frequency and intensity of REM sleep to compensate for said deprivation." - REM Rebound Effect
Sleep architecture is impacted in such a way that when THC consumption is discontinued, REM rebound takes place to make up for lost time.
This causes more vivid and emotional dreams than normal, since the sleeper is spending more time in REM sleep.
Studies in cannabis related REM rebound are still in their infancy but cannabis users have reported REM rebound can take up to two months to resolve itself depending on the level of consumption before cessation of use.
REM rebound typically starts within 24-48 hours after cessation.
Due to affecting sleep architecture, continuous THC consumption causes the consumer to spend less time in the REM phase of sleep.
Cessation of THC consumption causes REM rebound in the body's effort to regain lost time in the REM phase.
REM rebound causes vivid and emotionally troubling dreams which can take anywhere from two to eight weeks to shift back into a normal sleep architecture. After that time the subjects report having more normal dreams.
REM rebound can start within 24 hours of cessation of THC consumption
In some cases it can take up to 8 weeks to return to normal sleep architecture
Unfortunately there is no way to combat these vivid and emotional dreams directly but there are some lifestyle changes which may ease your discomfort. This is not an exhaustive list and we ask anyone who has any methods that work for them to let us know!
Ways to ease discomfort from vivid dreams:
Deep breathing exercises
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule
Therapy (EMDR, Talk, Art)
Some people have been known to regulate their sleep schedule to wake up earlier in an effort to mitigate some of these dreams. REM is the last stage of sleep in the cycle and a normal sleeper cycles about 6 times per night.
It is important to focus on getting an appropriate amount of sleep so as to never deprive yourself of sleep. Sleep deprivation can make REM rebound even worse and causes a myriad of other health problems.
Have you been having crazy dreams? Comment below and tell us one!
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