When it comes to improving brain function, nicotine is king. There are quite a few benefits from nicotine that you might not be aware of.

Disclaimer: By writing this post, we are not recommending this drug. Some of our readers who were already taking the drug requested that we commission a post on potential benefits, and we are simply providing information that is available in the clinical and scientific literature regarding its potential benefits.

What is Nicotine?

Nicotine, a potent nootropic, is a naturally occurring liquid alkaloid found in many plants of the nightshade family.

Tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and tobacco all contain nicotine; although, for humans, tobacco is the only plant containing significant enough quantities to have an effect.

Nicotine has recently been under the scope of research examining its beneficial role in ADHD, anxiety disorders, depression, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia, and even cognitive performance in the general population.

**This post is not suggesting to take up smoking or using tobacco as a means for nicotine consumption.

Nicotine Mechanism of Action

Nicotine is a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) [1].

MAOIs prevent the breakdown of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in the brain, effectively increasing their levels.

Nicotine mimics the effects of acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is an excitatory neurotransmitter capable of carrying out electrical impulses, making it possible for nerves to communicate.

Nicotine acts upon a series of subsets of the nicotinic transmitters, specifically alpha-4, beta-2, and alpha-7.

It is through these receptors that nicotine is able to act upon the brain and parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest part).

Through the alpha-7 receptor specifically, nicotine is able to influence 55 genes.

Nicotine also indirectly increases dopamine in the brain [23].

Nicotine increases blood flow in the thalamus, occipital cortex, and cerebellum [4].

Benefits of Nicotene

Contrary to common opinion, nicotine is not a carcinogenic substance, but it may be a ‘tumor promoter’ for some kinds of tumors [5].

While tobacco is quite addictive, animal models indicate that nicotine on its own is much less addictive than tobacco [6].

Levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin all increase with nicotine usage [7].

Nicotine stimulates the growth of new blood vessels and increases the number of red blood cells [8].

Growing new blood vessels can help your health and brain function, but it can also promote tumors, even if it doesn’t cause cancer itself.  Therefore, when it comes to cancer, nicotine is somewhat like IGF-1.

1-4) Increases Wakefulness, Motivation, Alertness, and Creativity

Nicotine is capable of significantly changing the electrical activity in the brain [910].

Nicotine puts users into an alpha brainwave state, which is characterized by effortless alertness, attention, and creativity [11910].

Nicotine also increases wakefulness, mood, and motivation via activating orexin.

Nicotine increases activity across both hemispheres of the brain, also known as bilateral neocortical activation (this is a good thing) [9].

Nicotine improves brain activity in users by enhancing activation in areas associated with visual attention, arousal, and motor activation [12].

Nicotine increases activity in the following regions of the brain: parietal cortex, thalamus, caudate, and occipital cortex [13].

5-7) Improves Attention, Memory, and Fine Motor Skills

Nicotine has been proven to benefit the brain in the following areas [14]:

  1. Fine Motor Skills
  2. Alerting attention – accuracy and response time
  3. Orienting attention – accuracy and response time
  4. Short-term memory – accuracy
  5. Long-term memory – accuracy
  6. Working memory – accuracy and response time

Nicotine helps to consolidate learned information in the brain [15].

It improves immediate and long-term memory in human and animal models [15].

Nicotine has been found to improve performance on attention-related tasks and is capable of increasing processing speed for complex tasks [16, 17].

Nicotine significantly boosts cognitive performance by activating the occipital and parietal cortices, which are the command centers for sustained attention and visual processing tasks [14, 18].

Nicotine improves multitasking ability by enhancing executive function, through its modulation of multiple brain networks and transmitter systems [4].

Part of the mechanism of memory enhancement might be from nicotine increasing vasopressin in people [19].

8) Can Help with ADHD

Nicotine can significantly reduce the severity of clinical symptoms in patients with ADHD [20].

Nicotine has been shown to increase vigor, quicken reaction time, increase attention and accuracy in non-smoking ADHD patients [21].

Nicotine caused a significant decrease in self-reported depression in ADHD [20].

A nicotine patch may be helpful for ADHD patients with anxiety and depression who are going through withdrawal and wanting to stay tobacco-free [22].

9) Neuroprotective

There are several mechanisms through which nicotine is neuroprotective:

  • Through estrogen blocking (“anti-estrogenic effects”).
  • Reducing inflammation (regulates prostaglandin production: prostanoids promote or restrain acute inflammation).
  • Stimulation of nicotinic cholinergic receptors in the brain [23].

10-11) Preventative and a Treatment for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

Research on nicotine and neurodegenerative diseases stemmed from the realization that there is a decreased rate of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases in smokers [24].

Nicotine has the potential in treating patients with Alzheimer’s [25].

Nicotine patches have been proven to treat cognitive impairments associated with Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and ADHD [1615].

Nicotine in individuals with Parkinson’s may protect against neural damage and improve both cognitive performance and motor abilities [1724].

When taking nicotine, Parkinson’s patients show an increased processing speed of more complex tasks [17].

Animal research models showed nicotine protected against brain damage in dopaminergic pathways typically associated with Parkinson’s [24].

Nicotine, acting on Nicotinic receptors has a beneficial influence on the brain which plays a role in the development of movement and degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Tourette’s [17262724].

It is suggested that it is through nicotine’s stimulation of nAChR (nicotinic acetylcholine receptors) it prevents age-related, and neurodegenerative mental decline [172826].

In patients suffering from Alzheimer’s, nicotine is thought to maximize the use of dwindling nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. Nicotine minimizes the effect of this deficit [2926].

12) Anti-inflammatory

Nicotine, indirectly through vagal nerve pathways, acts as a suppressor of inflammation (also known as the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway) [30, 31].

Nicotine lessens cells’ responsiveness to the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNF-α [32].

Nicotine reduces IL-2 (Th1 cytokine) and TNF-α production by human blood cells [33].

In healthy mice, nicotine decreases IL-1ß and TNF-α concentrations in colonic tissue [34].

Nicotine reduces IL-8 in patients with active ulcerative colitis [35].

Nicotinic receptor activators are being explored for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis [36].

Bacterial lipopolysaccharides (LPS) decrease nicotinic receptors (α7 nAChRs) in the mouse brain, exacerbating chronic inflammation, beta-amyloid accumulation and episodic memory decline, which mimics the early stages of Alzheimer’s [37].

This is perhaps why people who get infections (like CIRS people) often suffer from symptoms that resemble low levels of acetylcholine.

13) May Reduce Pain

In one small study of women conducted after gynecological surgery, those given access to morphine + nicotine scored their pain at much lower levels than women who were given morphine + placebo [38].

14) Helps the Gut

Smoking decreased susceptibility to Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and other inflammatory bowel diseases. Clinical evidence suggests that nicotine is responsible for this difference [34].

Nicotine is protective in ulcerative colitis by reducing inflammation in the gut barrier, which is a hallmark of inflammatory bowel disease [30].

The use of Nicotine patches for 4-6 weeks resulted in clinical improvement in ulcerative colitis [39].

Studies show that nicotine prevents the development of ulcerative colitis in healthy individuals, but relapse prevention is less effective with nicotine treatment [39, 40].

Nicotine enhances the protection of the intestinal mucosa by increasing the thickness of mucus in the colon [41].

A dose of 5 mg nicotine (+ carbomer) in a 100 ml liquid enema, is a therapeutic additive to conventional therapy in the treatment of ulcerative colitis [39].

Nicotine increases acid and pepsin secretions, gut motility and bile secretion [42].

Another study showed that Nicotine can slow the transit time from ingesting food to bowel movements [43]. But my experience is that it makes me go to the bathroom.

Another study mentions that nicotine delays the emptying of contents in the stomach [44].

An increase in nicotine blood levels is directly related to a decrease in blood flow in the rectum (this can be a good thing) [45].

15-16) Helps in Weight and Insulin Control

Nicotine has been shown to suppress appetite and reduce obesity [30].

Nicotine activates POMC neurons, which then go on to activate the melanocortin MC4R receptors.  This increases metabolism and decreases hunger [46].

Through anti-inflammatory pathways, nicotine indirectly decreases obesity by reducing chronic low-grade inflammation – a key feature of obesity [30].

Nicotine significantly improves blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity in both genetically obese and diet-induced obese mice [30].

17) Helps Repair Tissue

Low concentrations of topically applied nicotine promote wound healing [4748].

This can be done with a nicotine patch.

Nicotine stimulates the systems in the body that increases the growth of tissues and blood vessel capillaries (vasculogenesis and angiogenesis) [49].

In some cases, nicotine is able to repair damage to blood vessels and increase blood circulation, speeding up healing [8].

18) Can Help with Schizophrenia

Nicotine can improve cognitive related symptoms in those suffering from schizophrenia [50].

Nicotine is believed to help to stabilize chaotic dopaminergic activity, improving overall functionality among those with schizophrenia [503].

If you are schizophrenic, you will be more likely to smoke than not. 80% of schizophrenics smoke compared to 25% of the general population [51].

Schizophrenics may be more genetically predisposed to the beneficial effects of nicotine on the brain, and it has been suggested that smoking in schizophrenia may be a form of self-medication in an attempt to treat the underlying disease [513, 38].

Nicotine is viewed as a complement to the traditional drugs used to treat Tourette’s [5253].

Nicotine gum was found to enhance the efficacy of Tourette’s treatment drugs by reducing involuntary-movement symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome [53].

Nicotine patches were superior to placebo in reducing behavioral symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome when used in combination with treatment drug haloperidol [53].

Administration of 2 mg nicotine gum or 7 mg nicotine patches enhances the therapeutic properties of neuroleptic drugs [52].

This effect of reducing behavioral symptoms continues even after the drug doses are halved, and the nicotine patch had been discontinued [53].

Nicotine patches improve attention and behavior in children and adolescents with Tourette’s syndrome [54].

20-28) Other Interesting Information About Nicotine

Those who take in nicotine tend to have a lower incidence of:

  1. Uterine fibroids [23]
  2. Canker sores [23]
  3. Endometriosis and endometriosis cancer [23] – nicotinic activators are being explored to treat endometriosis [55]
  4. High blood pressure
  5. Vomiting during pregnancy [23]
  6. Venous thrombosis (probably not causal) [23]
  7. Fatality in heart attacks (probably not causal) [23]

Evidence suggests nicotine is responsible for these correlations [5657].

Chronic nicotine treatment enhances the relaxation of blood vessels in rats (via activation of the PKG pathway) [58].

Nicotine is an antidote to Strychnine (a highly toxic pesticide) poisoning. The literature on this is from 1862 –  (Here) and more recent literature on this [5960].

The Negatives of Nicotene

There are some potential downsides to nicotine.

If you don’t do it in moderation, it can become a problem.

  1. First, it should only be used if your brain has fully developed.
  2. Second, if you have or had cancer, it might not be smart to use nicotine.
  3. Third, if you have an H. pylori infection, you shouldn’t use nicotine until you get rid of it.

1) It’s Addictive, and Quitting is Difficult

Trying to quit a nicotine (more specifically tobacco/smoking) habit may cause strong cravings for the substance, increased appetite, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal problems, anxiety, anger, frustration, depression, irritability, and restlessness.

Nicotine is not a sedative or a relaxant. Studies have shown that the “sedative” or “calming” effect from cigarettes is only due to relieving the symptoms of withdrawal [61].

While short-term use of nicotine can have anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects, chronic use can actually result in increased anxiety and depression following withdrawal [62].

2) Can Increase Tumor Growth

Nicotine is a very strong promoter of increased capillary blood vessel growth.

This new growth is usually considered a good thing except in the case of tumors, where nicotine has been shown to increase tumor growth in colon, pancreas, breast, larynx, and lung cancers [4963646566].

Nicotine increases the progression and growth of tumors initiated by tobacco carcinogens.

Mice treated with nicotine had a nearly 40% higher tumor recurrence after initial tumors were successfully removed [66].

3) Adolescents Should Steer Clear of Nicotine

Nicotine ingestion shows impairment in the prefrontal cortex in adolescent users [67]

Cigarette smoking and/or nicotine ingestion could impair the development of the prefrontal cortex region of the brain in users under the age of 25 [67].

Nicotine use during adolescence actually increases the risk of cognitive impairment later in life [67].

Adolescent nicotine use has also been associated with a later risk of developing mental and behavioral problems such as depression, agoraphobia, panic disorder, and antisocial personality disorder [67].

4) Increases Risk of H.Pylori

H. pylori infection is more common in smokers, and eradication therapy less effective. Nicotine increases the toxin activity of H. pylori in the stomach [68].

Notes of Use of Nicotine

Dosing of Nicotine

Nicotine is a supplement whose dosage is typically self-determined by the individual to reach their desired effect. Self-dosage typically ranges from 0.2-8.0 mg. A middle range is considered to be between 1-4 mg.

Cigarettes contain roughly 10-20 mg of nicotine with the smoker taking in 1-2 mg of vaporized nicotine per cigarette. Most gums and chews contain 2 mg per piece. It is recommended to limit intake to 24 pieces in a day. I personally use 1 piece of gum on most days.

Only 10-20% of the nicotine present in a pinch of Swedish snus is absorbed via the mucous membrane and reaches the systemic circulation.

This means that only 1-2 mg of nicotine in snus is absorbed into the blood from a one gram pinch of snus containing 10 mg of nicotine [69].

Chewing tobacco varies widely depending upon the brand and type, containing free nicotine in amounts anywhere from 0.5 to 6 mg per dose [70].

Nicotine patches come in a selection of higher doses ranging from 5-21 mg, where the nicotine is released over a longer period of time.

Symptoms of Overdose

Nicotine poisoning delivers a biphasic effect – it first acts as a stimulant in the body but rapidly turns into a depressant. Vomiting is the most common symptom of nicotine poisoning and can begin as quickly as 15 minutes after ingestion [71].

Nicotine may also cause seizures and involuntary muscle twitching, as well as abnormal heart rhythms, a slow heart rate and fluctuating blood pressure [71].

In high concentrations, nicotine can cause heart failure, muscle paralysis and a buildup of fluid in the lungs’ air passages [72].

Nicotine Toxicity

Nicotine is lethal if ingested in high enough doses.

An oral dose of 50 to 60 mg of nicotine is enough to kill a 160 lb person [73].

Nicotine overdose can cause death in as little as an hour [72].

Nicotine overdose causes the same response in the body as toxic exposure to organophosphate insecticides and nerve agents such as DDT or Sarin gas [74].

Nicotine behaves the same way in the brain as acetylcholine. In excessive amounts, it will overload synapses and disrupt nerve impulses. Over-stimulation of neurons can cause the destruction of brain tissues [75].

Buying Nicotine Gum

Want More Targeted Ways to Enhance Brain Function?

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