Impact of Nicotine on Your Brain: The Good and The Bad Side
If you read my blogs quite often you might be aware of the fact that I love reading research published by Harvard. This time I came across a study that could ignite a debate in a room full of people! The Good Side of Nicotine! Yes, surprisingly enough nicotine does have a positive impact on our brain.
You know nicotine was first introduced in Europe in the 1600s and ever since then it has had divided opinion. But trust me Nicotine does offer more than addiction and today we are going to explore the “more” underlying nicotine usage.
What Forms Nicotine?
Nicotine is not just vape and smoke, it is a chemical that contains nitrogen, which is made by several types of plants (nightshade family) and tobacco plants. However, it can be produced synthetically as well. It has addictive properties which are why, if overused it may result in dependency.
Myths about Nicotine and Debunking the Truth
To start with let us demystify the myths around Nicotine consumption that hold us back from exploring the positive impact of nicotine on the brain.
Myth 1: Smoking Nicotine Kills
Truth: Nicotine does impact our body like a drug but there is no solid evidence that people lose their life from smoking. Judith Prochaska, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University also suggests that nicotine is not deadly.
It might surprise you but nicotine was ideally used as a medicine and stimulant for at least 2,000 years!
Myth 2: Nicotine Causes Tumor
Truth: No evidence or study supports that nicotine causes tumors by itself. However, if someone already has a tumor, nicotine might aid the growth of the tumors.
Myth 3: Nicotine is Addictive
Truth: Nicotine is addictive only if you take it regularly in unmoderated levels lead to addiction. In moderation, nicotine is indeed used as medication not resulting in any form of addiction. The science behind the same says that regular usage of nicotine creates new receptors in our brain that require a dose of nicotine for functioning.
Also Read: Best Online Resources For Smoking Cessation
What we Know About Nicotine: The Bad Side
Before we start exploring the positive side of nicotine let us first revisit the facts that we know about it, which is generally covered in the dark side.
- Nicotine consumption exposes an individual to a higher risk of stroke.
- The risk of developing cancer and nicotine are positively related to each other.
- Various physical health conditions like nausea, diarrhea, decreased appetite, excessive sweating, and increased gut activity are common side effects of using nicotine.
- Lung and cancer-related issues are found to be linked with excessive smoking.
- Smoking is found to decrease brain volume, thus limiting our cognitive functioning (which is debatable).
- During pregnancy, smoking may result in birth complications.
Please make a note here that the negative impact of nicotine is seen only as an outcome of long term consumption.
What MORE Nicotine Has to Offer: The Good Side
Now let us take a moment to flip the coin and look at the positive side of Nicotine (yes there does exist one). Let us explore the good side of nicotine which is backed with research!
A. Nicotine has Cognitive Enhancing Properties
This statement by Sussex University professor Jennifer Rusted might shock you a bit but it does hold true.
He Says, “To my knowledge, nicotine is the most reliable cognitive enhancer that we currently have, bizarrely.” He further emphasized nicotine having a robust impact on an individual’s cognitive functioning.
B. Nicotine Makes You Happy
Nicotine produces the happiness hormone dopamine in certain areas of the brain that are linked to pleasure and motivation. Thus an individual experiences a pleasurable sensation which does leave an individual feeling happy.
Also, experts argue about using nicotine for treating depression due to its dopamine-producing properties. It might surprise you but a small pilot study of nicotine augmentation in older adults found a positive relationship between nicotine and decreased signs of depression.
The possible reasons behind the same are still debatable. While some experts suggest that nicotine decreases the level of cortisol and thus the symptoms of depression decrease. Others argue that it curbs an individual’s habit of ruminating and thus reducing their experience of depressive symptoms.
For now, we have to say that there does exist a link between nicotine and happiness which needs research.
C. Nicotine Treats Brain Aging
The two major mental health conditions that are output brain aging are Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Both of these health conditions can be managed by nicotine patches.
A study conducted on 67 older individuals found that people with transdermal nicotine patches reported improved cognitive performance in both memory and attention. This suggests that nicotine helps in enhancing the attention and memory functions of people with early memory decline.
The author of the study Paul Newhouse is now conducting a large trial of understanding the impact of nicotine patches on an individual’s memory and attention. To conclude, it can be said that nicotine does help in treating if not preventing brain aging.
D. Nicotine Improves Short-term Memory
Time and again it has been said that nicotine consumption increases our alertness, which in turn helps in improving our short-term memory.
To test and prove the same a study conducted by the University of Surrey. They conducted 4 hour-long short-term memory tests on 10 smokers and 10 non-smokers. The research suggested that nicotine does facilitate the short-term memory of an individual!
E. Nicotine Calms Your Nerve Down
Do you get angry quite often? Or Do you lose your temper at a snap? Well, who knew that nicotine can help you find your calm.
An interesting study by Jean Gehricke from the University of California who studied the effect of nicotine patches on the subject’s tendency to retaliate in response to anger provocation found that nicotine can help here!
The study suggests that nicotine was associated with a reduced tendency to retaliate and lower anger levels. It was further explained by Gehricke that nicotine brings changes in our brain metabolism which creates a calming and soothing effect.
F. Nicotine Normalizes Schizophrenic Brain Activity
According to statistics 90 percent of the people with schizophrenia smoke cigarettes. Yes, 90 percent! That is six times higher than the usual population. Before you label it as substance abuse let me break it to you that according to scientists it is a way of self-medication for people with schizophrenia.
G. Nicotine Can Help People With ADHD
An article by Dr. Newhouse and Alexandra Potter, Ph.D., shared that there is high consumption of nicotine (smoking) among ADHD adults because nicotine helps to improve their brain functioning.
His statement comes from his study on eight adolescents with ADHD who were administered nicotine patches and compared with placebo. The findings supported that nicotine patches did have a positive impact on cognitive and behavioral inhibitions experienced by adolescents with ADHD.
Also Read: How CBT Dismantles ADHD Negativity
Nicotine has both positive and negative ends. While studies have explored the unhelpful side of nicotine to a great extent, the helpful side is yet to be explored in-depth.
However, through this article, we are promoting smoking. As you can see that most of these studies have used nicotine without tobacco to explore its medicational side, so it is a project still under construction!
So, till the time experts are exploring the positive impact of nicotine in our lives we shall ensure that we do not over-consume it. Remember it is the addiction to nicotine that is problematic, so make sure you do not fall in the trap of the bad side of nicotine.
Thank you for reading!