Can Marijuana Cause Sleep Terrors?

Can Marijuana Cause Sleep Terrors?

Marijuana is the dried greenish flower of the cannabis plant, and its psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Users traditionally inhale marijuana through joints, pipes, and bongs or ingest it in foods and beverages, and it affects the area of the brain associated with memory, pleasure, concentration, and sensory perception. Studies suggest that marijuana use helps initiate sleep, but the drug also appears to limit the length and density of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Dreams commonly occur in REM sleep, and vivid dreams are a common rebound effect for people experiencing marijuana withdrawal. Moreover, famed sleep researcher Ernest Hartman argued that the sleep disruptions caused by marijuana use may trigger night/sleep terrors.

What Are Sleep Terrors

Night terrors are less common and considerably different than nightmares. Several traits characterize a night terror, including the following:

  • Typically occur in the first few hours of sleep during non-REM cycles
  • Difficulty waking or comforting the sleeper during the night terror
  • Reactions that include screaming, thrashing, sweating, and panting
  • Possibility of bolting upright and opening their eyes while still asleep
  • Inability to recall many or any details of the terror once fully awake

Sleep terrors are considered a parasomnia disorder involving recurrent episodes that cause significant distress and impairment. While it is not believed that drug use directly causes the disorder, marijuana may influence the occurrence of night terrors. Moreover, if a marijuana addiction occurs, it can negatively affect an already strained psyche.

Marijuana Addiction Statistics

Marijuana does not produce a physical dependence comparable to opiates and benzodiazepines, but a psychological addiction to marijuana can be especially strong. The 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) provides data on marijuana use for people aged 12 or older, including the following:

  • 7% of this age group (i.e., 18.1 million people) used marijuana in the past month
  • The rate for past-year marijuana use tops the rates for the next six drugs combined
  • Marijuana led all drugs in past-year addiction treatment with 872,000 admissions

The 2003 book Cannabis Use and Dependence features several other statistics on marijuana addiction, including the following:

  • 10% of people who try marijuana become daily users
  • 20% to 30% who try become weekly marijuana users
  • 4.4% of the total population abuses marijuana in their lifetime

If seeking help for night terrors, a marijuana addiction can interfere with treatment, but integrated therapies can help with both the sleep and the substance use disorder.

Marijuana Abuse Treatment

Rehabilitation centers help with several integrated services, which potentially include the following:

  • Reduction of marijuana withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, tension, and mood changes
  • Diagnosis and treatment for co-occurring mental health and personality disorders
  • Biofeedback, hypnosis, relaxation therapies, and other potential sleep disorder treatments
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy to adjust maladaptive thought patterns and negative beliefs
  • Counseling to address people, places, emotions, and scenarios that trigger drug cravings
  • Motivational interviewing designed to help addicts find personal reasons to stop using
  • Psychotherapy for unresolved trauma, unconscious conflicts, and emotional problems
  • Development of positive life skills, coping strategies, and relapse-prevention techniques
  • Optional holistic treatments like acupuncture, yoga, massage, and herbal remedies

Therapies typically occur in both individual and group settings. Following primary care, recovering addicts are strongly encouraged to continue treatment with aftercare counseling and local support groups.

Get Help

Call our toll-free helpline 24 hours a day to speak with one of our admissions coordinators. We can discuss marijuana addiction, sleep disorders, and treatment options, and if you have health insurance, we can check the policy for rehabilitation benefits. We are here to help so please call now.