Currently I am in a clinic doing long-term therapy for anxiety, and aside from the great opportunity it presents for getting my life in order, it also gives me a lot of ideas for what to write for this blog. There was for example a conversation with a fellow patient about how intense and memorable his dreams have become since starting on antidepressants that made me think that's actually something I know a lot about. If there's one common side-effect that majorly affected my life in the past years, it's that. The success of medications in what they're supposed to do varied a lot for me, but what was there since day one and remained throughout numerous changes is how my dreams were altered by the drugs.
It's pretty much any psychoactive medication you can take that can have such side-effects. For me, I think it is chlorprothixene that does it. Some medications are known for it more than others. Mirtazapine is the one with the highest reputation for intense dreams, and I can say from my own experience that it is quite effective in doing it. This is not to be confused with another common side-effect, a much more unpleasant one, frequent nightmares. I think an entirely different part of the brain is affected for that side-effect and entirely different meds do it. The intense dreams I am talking about are rarely unpleasant and even more rarely nightmares.
It's some really weird stuff you get in your dream phase. Just last night I dreamt I was in a sequel to the movie The Thing, and in the dream the thing was a brilliant tactician that perfectly planned out who to take over at what time for the maximum tactical gain. The goal was to frighten me, because I was the prize it wanted to take over for some reason, but it could only take me over if I was scared. At one point it took the form of Cthulhu, but it was sort of a 50s James Dean Cthulhu with a leather jacket and smoking a cigarette. It was destroying things and killing people but it looked ridiculous. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Now imagine I get dreams like that every single night, and they're always extremely vivid and I remember them for hours. It's what everyone who likes dreaming would wish for, if it didn't involve taking pills.
I think it is up to everyone for him- or herself whether or not you see this as a blessing, a curse, or something you just don't give a damn about. For myself, I see it as a bit of a gift, because I've had many creative ideas from my dreams, and I wrote down or permanently memorised some of the best ones with the intention of making them part of a book some time in the future. But I can see how to some people this intense dreaming may be annoying or unsettling. I can only recommend it as a conversation starter at the very least. A lot of people love to dream and might envy us psychoactive medication consumers if they knew we have some of the best dreams you can get every night.
For many people, the question probably is whether there could be therapeutical potential in this type of dreaming. Does traditional dream interpretation work with dreams clearly influenced by chemicals? That's provided dream interpretation works at all, it's not without controversy. But it's an interesting question, whether there is important information about ourselves in these dreams, and whether by amplifying them and making them more memorable, meds make our dreams and thereby our subconscious more accessible. At one point I should write down everything I dream and read up on some dream interpretation to see if there's any useful information in it at all. Mental health professionals feel free to give some insight in the comments.
In the end, to me it's mostly a pleasant diversion to think about the dreams while I am awake, and sometimes an inspiration for creative writing. But in my dream phase, while my brain is coming up with all that stuff, I can't help but think it's the most awesome side-effect any medication could have.