Posted on June 17 2019
To date, the study of sleep is intriguing. Sleep and all related processes have been extensively studied by researchers—measuring activity and eye movements during sleep— in an attempt to explain the importance of sleep, how much we need, and how we can elevate our health by ensuring sleep quantity and quality is up to par. Even more exciting than research on sleep is research regarding dreaming—a phenomenon that many cannabis users experience less frequently after smoking.
That’s why cannabis’ therapeutic effects could include suppressing nightmares, and why cannabis is infamously used by PTSD sufferers to suppress anxiety and nightmares to improve sleep. For many people who suffer from nightmares and night terrors, repressing these with a couple of tokes seems too good to be true. Fortunately for many, there’s a bit of evidence explaining why cannabis may have this effect on our dreams. Here, we’ll cover the science behind why cannabis could be the best dream-repressing sleep aid for you and exactly how to use cannabis for nightmares.
Research Supports the Use of Cannabis for Nightmares
Due to federal restrictions on cannabis, research regarding the impact of regular marijuana use on basic functions, like sleep, is limited. There is evidence that cannabis may help many symptoms of chronic illness to ease any discomfort that could disrupt sleep. For this reason, cannabis is widely accepted as a sort of sleep aid, helping many people fall asleep despite pain, anxiety, or another chronic symptom.
Still, many researchers are particularly intrigued by the impact of cannabinoids on sleep. Aside from helping manage uncomfortable symptoms, experts are now learning that cannabinoids interact with the body via the endocannabinoid system, a neuro-delivery system that regulates processes involving mood, appetite, immunity, and even sleep.
Research shows that THC may interact with the body in a few ways that may impact sleep and nightmares. One study shows that CBD decreases the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, which is a common issue among those who suffer from poor sleep or frequent waking dreams.
Although the research efforts were pointed at defining the harms of illicit drugs, one study explains how THC could be beneficial to suppressing these dreams. The study shows that administration of cannabis prior to sleep reduced the amount of REM sleep, or the phase of sleep where dreaming is believed to occur.
Further evidence comes from a study involving Nabilone, a lab-made, synthetic version of THC. The study involved patients who experienced frequent nightmares as a symptom of PTSD that were unresponsive to tradition anti-anxiety medications. The study showed that the administration of nabilone significantly reduced or eliminated nightmares in 72% of patients.
This evidence suggests that cannabis could be useful to a range of people who suffer from dream-related sleep disorders or other disorders that cause nightmares. One condition that may benefit includes REM Behavior Disorder, a type of sleep disorder where patients act out dreams during REM sleep. This disorder, which often leads to injury, is usually treated with anti-anxiety medications or certain sedatives, many of which come with a long list of potential side effects.
Further, it’s estimated that 5% of all people experience nightmares, while roughly 71% to 96% of people who experience symptoms of PTSD also experience nightmares. Since medications for this disorder are equally as risky, many people prefer the soothing alternative of whole plant cannabis instead.
Of course, the psychoactive effects of THC are not for everyone, which is why it’s important to note that researchers have highlighted another way cannabis may help—CBD.
Can CBD Help With Nightmares?
Although research regarding CBD is still in its infancy—most research focused on THC until the last decade—there is some pretty useful evidence that suggests cannabidiol may be an even better sleep aid than THC. Although THC may help you fall asleep, and may even help rid you of your pesky nightmares, it may decrease sleep quality over time by preventing slow-wave sleep.
However, when whole-plant cannabis is used to manage nightmares, many experts find that Sativa strains work better, despite the fact that most people associate sativa with its uplifting effects. Sativa plants are famous for having higher concentrations of CBD, which is why experts often suggest that CBD may actually be the nightmare-fighting superhero you need.
CBD is considered a wake-promoting agent, which sounds a little bit confusing when you’re considering using it for sleep. However, wake-promoting means that CBD can reduce the depth of sleep, avoiding REM sleep, generally resulting in longer sleep times overall. Reducing REM sleep once again helps to reduce dreaming and nightmares, so its a win-win for poor sleep sufferers.
Plus, CBD is non-psychoactive, which makes it useful to a wider range of people, including those who are THC sensitive, and in special (physician approved cases) it may even be useful for children. Based on available research, we known that CBD and THC have synergistic effects, any many people find that they get the best results when combining the two.
How to Use Cannabis for Nightmares
If you suffer from recurring nightmares, especially as a side effect of PTSD, cannabis may be a fresh alternative to prescription medications that provides quick relief. If you want to use cannabis to help manage your nightmares or other sleep-related disorder, you should talk to your doctor. Your doctor can help you design a cannabis regimen that works for you and doesn’t interfere with your other medications.
If you’re worried about trying cannabis because of its psychoactive effects, you may want to consider trying CBD instead. CBD harvested from industrial hemp is legal in all 50 states, which makes it much more accessible. Plus the lack of psychoactive effects is useful to many people, especially those suffering from certain anxiety-related or psychiatric disorders.
No matter which formula you choose—whole plant cannabis or CBD—we recommend trying a cannabis vape cartridge for managing sleep. Both THC and CBD vapes take effect quickly (within 10 minutes), which makes them useful for dosing just before bed. Vaping may have advantages over smoking that makes it a better option for health-conscious consumers. If vaping isn’t your style, you may prefer to roll up your favorite cannabis flower, just consider trying a sativa if you’re hoping to tame your dreams.
To avoid smoking and vaping altogether, many people enjoy the effects of a CBD tincture. They take slightly longer to take full effect so you’ll need to take them about an hour before you intend to sleep. Tinctures are popular because they are easy to measure, making it easy for new users to adjust their dose until symptoms are managed.
Either way, using cannabis for nightmares is potentially much safer than using many of the prescription medications prescribed for the condition. If you’re in doubt, talk to your doctor before using cannabis or CBD for sleep related conditions, especially if you already take other medications. Many people find that they are able to easily swap their sleep medications for cannabis with their doctor’s guidance, resulting in fewer nightmares and more restful nights.