Suppression Of Saccades May Reduce Anxiety Symptoms, Including In PTSD. … Marijuana Does Suppress Saccades.

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In earlier posts writes Guest Blogger Ken Arenson, I referred to experimental work on saccades (the REMs of sleep) that has established a causal relationship between such saccades and visual epochs during REM sleep –Andrillon v Nir et al, (2015). If one allows a few minutes worth of visual epochs to accumulate during REM sleep, then wake the subject and listen to her dream report, chances are that one will hear a Cipher Method meaning in the words of the dream report, providing we know the true context –what was on the dreamer’s mind at the time. I am not aware of  any reason to think differently about language activation due to awake eye movements.  Both kinds of awake eye movements, those associated with the orienting response (OR) as well as voluntary eye movements, trigger language activity. The classic instance is the OR warning call: “Watch out!”

Post # 42 is the key post that traces the causal chain from rapid eye movement in sleep (s-REMs) or while awake (w-REMs) to the linguistic activity in dreams. Here is the link:

The eye movements of EMDR may do their therapeutic work by stimulating metaphors that integrate the episodic memory of the trauma into the semantic system (42nd Post, part 2. 9 Nov. 2017)

The work that achieved this momentous insight, as mentioned in the opening paragraph, is by Andrillon v Nir et al, (2015),

Andrillon, T., Nir, Y., Cirelli, C., Tononi, G., & Fried, I. (2015). Single-neuron activity and eye movements during human REM sleep and awake vision. Nature communications, 6

And these three posts give useful background information: posts  34, 36, 39

It is this relationship between saccades and language activation that leads me to the wonder if the language generating action of saccades may become overactive and contribute to anxiety.

One obvious inference from the presence of Cipher-Method meaning in dream reports is that saccades influence the onset of the language activity detected by this theory. (Also, the relationship seems reversible: Language activity seems to trigger saccadic activity. Watch my eyes while I try to find the next few words when I am speaking extemporaneously. I am usually saccading up and to the left.)

A certain amount of language introspection often is the ticket to reduce anxiety in a fraught situation. The breakthrough to EMDR came to Francine Shapiro while she was walking through the woods after her cancer diagnosis, looking left and right and up and down — saccading —  and she recognized that she felt less stressed when she emerged than when she had entered that dark forest of her mind.

I wonder if there can too much of a good thing in saccading? If too much saccading, however “too much” is defined or measured, can cause an ill effect such as anxious thoughts? I can imagine experiments that would test this.

How would we slow down  saccades, anyway? One widely available drug that does is THC, the hallucinogenic molecule in Marijuana, (the plant as grown). THC increases latency of the Orienting Response. This slowing may be just what we need to arrest anxious thoughts or dreams.


Two studies show that THC increases latencies of “reflexive visually guided saccades”, the visual Orienting Response (OR).

Ploner, C.J., Tschirch, A., Ostendor, F.,  Dick, S.,  Gaymard, B.M., Rivaud-Péchoux, S., Sporkert, F., Pragst, F., Stadelmann, A.M., (2002) Oculomotor Effects of δ-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol in Humans: Implications for the Functional Neuroanatomy of the Brain Cannabinoid System, Cerebral Cortex, Volume 12, Issue 10, Pages 1016–1023,

Huestegge, L., Radach, R., & Kunert, H. J. (2009). Long-term effects of cannabis on oculomotor function in humans. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 23(6), 714-722.

The political movement to allow recreational use of Cannabis is stirring debate about the health impact of Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The modern work shows that it does what people think it does, for the most part –it reduces anxiety. There are a few people who experience just the opposite when they first try it, and they may never try again.

It is widely believed  that smoking a joint reduces anxiety and people commonly report this as their motive for using Cannabis products.

Temple, E. C., Driver, M., & Brown, R. F. (2014). Cannabis use and anxiety: is stress the missing piece of the puzzle?. Frontiers in psychiatry, 5, 168.

Is that perception false? Is the arrow of causation the other way? Do Marijuana joints cause anxiety? A number of studies have investigated the causal relationship between THC and anxiety. Recent, large studies do not find that THC causes anxiety except for those occasional naive users. One such study in Sweden was by Danielsson et al. (2016) who did a large longitudinal epidemiological study of adult Swedes. The authors recognized the uncertainty, saying,

… it has not been possible to draw a definitive conclusion regarding the direction of causality, i.e. whether cannabis use increases the risk for depression/anxiety or vice versa. This study aimed at examining possible associations between cannabis use, depression and anxiety, using all three measures as both exposure and outcome.

… Data were obtained from a longitudinal cohort study comprising 8598 Swedish men and women, aged 20–64, with a three-year-follow-up.

The authors conclude,

“We found no longitudinal associations between cannabis use and incidence of depression/anxiety, or between depression/anxiety and later cannabis use onset”

Danielsson, A. K., Lundin, A., Agardh, E., Allebeck, P., & Forsell, Y. (2016). Cannabis use, depression and anxiety: A 3-year prospective population-based study. Journal of affective disorders193, 103-108.

On the other hand, there is good evidence that Cannabidiol (CBD) the non-hallucinogenic molecule in Cannabis, works to reduce anxiety and related conditions when used to treat present distress.

“…existing preclinical evidence strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder when administered acutely;”

Moreover, in a paper from Bonn-Miller et al. (2014), there is good evidence that Marijuana, (which includes varying fractions of THC and of CBD, depending on the plant variety) is a common self-choice treatment and is effective for enhancing sleep in sufferers of PTSD.

Bonn-Miller, M. O., Babson, K. A., & Vandrey, R. (2014). Using cannabis to help you sleep: heightened frequency of medical cannabis use among those with PTSD. Drug & Alcohol Dependence136, 162-165.

No one offers a reason for these good effects. Saccadic suppression may be the reason why people with anxiety and PTSD get symptomatic relief with a Marijuana joint, and sleep better.

I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin

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