This Is Your Brain On Chantix?

NY Magazine has published a interesting personal account from a patient who was taking the smoking-cessation drug Chantix. The FDA has reported 37 suicides and more than 400 reports of suicidal behavior in connection with Chantix, a pleasure blocking drug that sits in the nicotine receptors and prevents the smoker from properly experiencing their nicotine high. The FDA recently issued a patient advisory about the drug, requesting that patients carefully monitor their moods. The possible side-effects of Chantix now include “anxiety, nervousness, tension, depressed mood, unusual behaviors and thinking about or attempting suicide.”

The NY Magazine article contains some pretty freaky stuff. It seems that, for some people, taking Chantix turns everyday life into a David Lynch movie. The FDA says “vivid, unusual, or strange dreams may occur while taking Chantix.” The problem, it seems, is that for some people… these dreams don’t just happen while you’re asleep.

The next night, I nodded off listening to Radiohead’s In Rainbows, feeling a little guilty that I’d paid zero dollars for it. I had a quick blip of a dream: A dark, inky fluid was jolting violently from the corners of my ceiling, zigzagging its way across the walls and wooden floor in jerky sync to the music.

It was only a dream, though it seemed more immediate and visceral than my usual fare, which I rarely remember after waking up. The following night, things got even stranger. I fell asleep with Bravo blaring on my TV and dreamed that a red-faced Tim Gunn was pushing me against the wall. “But I always thought you were so nice,” I said.

By night four, my dreams began to take on characteristics of a David Cronenberg movie. Every time I’d drift off, I’d dream that an invisible, malevolent entity was emanating from my air conditioner, which seemed to be rattling even more than usual. I’d nap for twenty minutes or so before bolting awake with an involuntary gasp. I had the uneasy sense that I wasn’t alone.

I smoked a cigarette, then tried going back to sleep. But each time I started napping, I’d dream that something increasingly ominous–carbon monoxide? Vampires?–was sucking vital essence out of me. Soon the clock on my desk read 3:20 a.m.

The most unsettling thing about sleeping on Chantix is that I never felt like I was truly asleep. Some part of me remained on guard. It was more like lucid dreaming, what I thought it might feel like to be hypnotized. And it didn’t entirely go away come morning. As I showered, shaved, and scrambled into clothes, I tried to shake a weird, paranoid sense that I’d just been psychically raped by a household appliance.

It did help him quit smoking, though.. until he started hallucinating and smashed up his entire apartment. Time to try the patch.

FDA Issues Public Health Advisory on Chantix [FDA]
This Is My Brain on Chantix [NYmag]