Thursday, 1 January 2015

Nicotine Patch Dream Experiment

One of my friends on a lucid dreaming page on Facebook had reported a series of bizarre, vivid and often lucid dreams after being given nicotine patches (nicotine replacement therapy while trying to quit smoking) during a hospital stay. A psychiatric nurse had commented on the thread saying hospitals often remove nicotine patches from patients before bed due to the prevalence of nightmares. I had previously read of the link between nicotine patches and lucid dreaming, and having a number of the patches in my drawer from when I attempted to give up smoking, decided to experiment with them.

There have been some studies into the effect of Nicotine patches on dreaming - notably, F Page, G Coleman & R Conduit, 'The effect of transdermal nicotine patches on sleep and dreams' (2006) Physiology & Behaviour 88.4 in which the researchers tested the effects on 15 smokers aged between 20 - 33 years. It was found that the nicotine patches caused a significant number of micro-arousals compared to placebos. The percentage of REM sleep decreased, but there was no change observed in REM latency or time spent in NREM sleep. More vivid visual imagery was reported during REM sleep stages.

Indeed, the effects of nicotine patches on sleep and dreaming have been recognised by manufacturers and professional health services, as well as being hotly debated on lucid dreaming forums, so it is a widely known phenomenon. Moreover, anecdotal evidence from dream explorers who have experimented using nicotine patches tends to report dreams of a nightmarish or sexual nature. Similar effects have also been reported by e-cigarette users who vaporise high doses of nicotine before sleep.

The reason nicotine patches seem to have such a dramatic effect on sleep and dreaming is because, unlike smoked tobacco products, the user of a patch has a steady flow of nicotine (a stimulant) to the bloodstream and nicotine is thought to increase the brain's memory storing capacity. This means that when used during sleep and dreaming, the nicotine patch may encourage more effective and vivid recall of dream details upon waking. Another explanation is that nicotine patches suppress PGO waves in the brain, which normally spike before the dreamer enters REM sleep. PGO waves - or ponto-geniculo-occipital waves regulate the sleep/wake cycles in humans and animals and suppression may lead to a confusion between sleep and wakefulness, which may be why nicotine patches are linked to lucid dreaming (conscious awareness of the dream state) and prevalence of false awakenings.

I will write more on the topic of nicotine and it's effects on dreaming and lucidity when I can find some further research on this topic. I can report that I experimented using 21 mg (24 hour) patches by NiQuitin during an average 8 hour sleep. I applied the clear patch to the skin of my right thigh immediately before sleep.

At the start of the sleep on the two nights I used the nicotine patches (which were not consecutive nights, there was a few days between each experiment, due to the exhausting, frightening results), I practiced the WILD technique (click here for instructions and explanation of this 'holy grail' induction method). 

On the first occasion had a very successful lucid dream induction, where I immediately had a lucid false awakening, while on the second occasion I think there was a lapse of time between falling asleep and the lucid false awakening occurring. On both nights, while practicing the WILD technique, I lay still and meditated, clearing my mind of all thoughts. I experienced the feeling of sleep paralysis begin after 15 minutes or so, and my body began to feel warm and vibrate. I began to see hypnogogic imagery - bright lights behind my closed eyes, which materialised into cartoon faces of children and fairies on the first occasion and snowy, sparkly landscapes on the second night of the experiment. I thought I heard my doorbell ring a number of times (on the first and second night), but knew this was unlikely as it was past midnight on both occasions that I practiced this induction using the nicotine patches. After around 20 - 25 minutes on each time, I got a roll-over signal, at which point I either fell asleep or entered what appeared to be a spontaneous false awakening.

So, both nights during which I used the nicotine patches I experienced these scary, nightmarish false awakenings (without sleep paralysis), dream involving over-sized alien-like figures invading my bedroom and sexual/violent themes. All the dreams, whether lucid or non-lucid were very vivid and clearly recalled. I also experienced the greatest number of lucid dreams in one night, interspersed with a higher number of non-lucid dreams than normal. When I awoke on both occasions I felt exhausted (as if I had not gotten enough restful sleep) and disorientated. I had poor motor skills (I was more clumsy and made more minor mistakes when trying to use a computer/phone), but did not suffer the same ill-effects described online by others who experimented with nicotine patches. 

You can read my dream reports relating to this experiment here and here (click on the red links to visit my lucid dream reports).

* It is important to note that I do not advocate the use of nicotine patches for the purposes of inducing lucid dreams or non-lucid dreams, or for any other purpose other than the supervised cessation of smoking or use of tobacco/nicotine-based products. I have been a smoker for periods throughout my adult life (tobacco and cannabis) and therefore have had professional medical advice and conducted my own research prior to using nicotine replacement therapies in an appropriate and safe way. My main objective when purchasing nicotine patches is to use them to cut down or quit smoking, which I have successfully done with the use of such medications which minimise withdrawal symptoms and satisfy cravings for nicotine, which is a highly addictive substance and should be avoided. Many of the online medical resources discuss the effect of nicotine patches on dreaming, in particular the vividness and abnormal dreams which seem to occur in users. These are often experienced as nightmares, and medical advice to those concerned is typically to remove nicotine patches before sleep. When I used the nicotine patches to quit smoking I never used to use them while asleep as I have never had a nicotine craving which has interrupted my ability to sleep and I have never had an addiction strong enough to make me need nicotine desperately, except maybe if I had also drank alcohol (which I no longer do except on rare occasions). This is why I had no first-hand knowledge or experience of using nicotine patches during sleep and observing their effect on dreaming. I had read the experienced of others and as a dedicated oneiornaut was fascinated to try myself, particularly as I had a large stack of nicotine patches available already and need not spend any money. This was my adult decision based on my own state of health, in-depth research into possible consequences and wish to write a report for my readers who may be interested in hearing of my experiment, with no intention of replicating it. I take my own risks and do not suggest that anyone take anything written in this blog post as instructions, advice, medical information or otherwise. When I write about the effects of recreational drugs, supplements, enhancers, food, nutrients etc, I am expressing an opinion based on my own research and personal experiences for educational and entertainment purposes.

2 comments:

  1. Wow so interested in this stuff but I can lucid dream and patch DONT help me at all

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    1. I didn't really imagine the patch would effect me as much as it did. I can usually lucid dream without any substances/help - just memory-based induction methods (MILD technique), but when I used the patch, it became possible for me to use WILD (wake induced lucid dreaming), something which I had not been able to do before. However - as many medical practitioners also confirm - nicotine patches can often create nightmares and very troubling dreams. I am prone to false awakenings (I have been since childhood) and the patches definitely made me have some very scary experiences.

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