Nicotine as a Nootropic | What You MUST Know

Nicotine as a nootropic?!

While nicotine is typically associated with the negative effects of cigarettes, many have begun using nicotine as a nootropic.

Cigarettes, though most common, aren’t the only way you can consume nicotine, and there are many products, such as gum or lozenges, that provide nicotine in much safer forms.

But here's the interesting thing…

The potential of nicotine as a nootropic is exciting. From improving memory and vigilance to possibly even protecting you from serious neurodegenerative diseases, nicotine could offer impressive cognitive benefits.

In fact, many individuals find a cup of coffee and some nicotine gum significantly improve cognitive abilities.

Is nicotine an ideal smart drug for you? Let's dig in:


Note: While nicotine may have some benefits for the brain, smoking is different and we’re not advising you to start smoking OR use products that contain nicotine without permission from a medical professional.


What is Nicotine?

Let's start with the basics:

It’s hard to separate nicotine from cigarettes, but they are two separate products. Nicotine is a chemical compound produced by a range of plants, the most well-known of which is tobacco, but it can also be found naturally in plants in the nightshade family, including eggplant, green pepper, and potato.

It’s easier to think of nicotine like caffeine: while it is most commonly associated with coffee, it can also be found in a range of other plants and products. 

Nicotine is an alkaloid that has a protective role in nature as it is thought to head off plant predators thanks to its bitter taste and toxicity to certain insects.

One study created a nicotine-free version of the tobacco plant, and the study found that that the nicotine-free plant was attacked more frequently by native herbivores when compared to its nicotine-containing natural counterpart [1]. This study demonstrates how nicotine may act as a defensive tool in plants, protecting from herbivore damage.

Aside from its plant-protecting properties, nicotine may also offer a range of cognitive benefits for those who consume it, leading it to gain a reputation as a nootropic. Nicotine’s brain-boosting potential has been considered for decades.

Epidemiological studies from as far back as the 1980s have linked smoking to lower rates of Parkinson’s, and it is thought that nicotine may have a positive effect on mental health [2, 3]. This may explain the often higher smoking rate among patients with mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and anxiety.


What Does Nicotine Do?

Nicotine is a naturally occurring alkaloid that can have a range of effects on the body and the brain.

Nicotine has three main mechanisms of action: ganglionic transmission, nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, and affecting the central nervous system to stimulate nicotinic acetylcholine receptors [4].

The effect of nicotine on acetylcholine receptors is particularly important as this is where nicotine’s cognitive boosting and addictive qualities come from.

When nicotine interacts with acetylcholine receptors, it can stimulate dopamine transmission which then stimulates the reward center in the brain, creating feelings of improved mood and cognitive functioning. However, repeated dopamine stimulation can result in neurons becoming desensitized to dopamine, which reinforces addiction and induces craving-like feelings.

Concerning nicotine’s potential neuroprotective effects, it is thought that nicotine’s actions on dopamine systems may also be responsible for potentially protecting against neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s [5]. Nicotine has also shown to be beneficial in protecting against the neurotoxin MPTP, which is responsible for much of the damage that leads to Parkinson’s.

Nicotine can increase dopamine levels, and it can also increase your levels of adrenaline, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which all can improve your cognitive function, attention levels, and mood.

Nicotine is also extremely fast-acting because of its ability to rapidly cross the blood-brain barrier where it becomes concentrated in the brain and exerts its cognitive effects [6]. Interestingly, nicotine is thought to be the most addictive when inhaled, as opposed to being delivered orally or through the skin.


Is Nicotine “Bad” for You?

While nicotine can have a range of positive brain-boosting effects, there are also some side effects from nicotine that you need to be aware of.

The most obvious negative side effect is nicotine’s addictive qualities, which when combined with harmful substances like those in cigarettes, can lead to overexposure to dangerous chemicals and carcinogens. With the CDC estimating that cigarette smoking kills six million a year, the consequences of nicotine’s addictive qualities are serious [7].

When it comes to the side effects of nicotine itself, there are also some side effects to consider. Nicotine can reduce elastin in the lungs, which can contribute to the development of emphysema [8]. This effect only occurs when nicotine is inhaled when it is taken through cigarette smoking or vaping.

Nicotine has also been shown to negatively impact the immune system by decreasing certain immunological responses [9]. T-cells, macrophages, and fibroblasts are important immune cells that have all been found to either become dysfunctional or be reduced because of nicotine.

It is thought that nicotine may significantly contribute to the immunosuppressive qualities of cigarettes. Because of this, immuno-compromised people should consult with their doctor before introducing nicotine into their nootropic routine.

Although nicotine has strong effects on hormones like dopamine and adrenaline and can induce a range of cognitive benefits, nicotine can have some negative effects on heart function [10].

Catecholamine hormones like dopamine and adrenaline can increase heart rate and blood pressure, and while this can help you to focus and remain alert, it also can reduce blood flow to the heart, which is a symptom that contributes to coronary vascular disease.

The most serious effects of nicotine tend to be when it is consumed through cigarettes. Even nicotine’s addictive qualities are more pronounced when inhaled. Nicotine consumption through cigarettes should be avoided, and though there may be other side effects from nicotine consumption alone, they are largely seen in studies when nicotine consumption is excessive.


Nicotine as a Nootropic 

While it’s important to take any possible side effects seriously, there are also many cognitive benefits to nicotine that make it a potentially powerful nootropic.

Many have found nicotine has a positive effects on:

  • Focus
  • Motivation
  • Mood
  • Memory

These unique benefits stem from nicotine's effects on hormones like dopamine and adrenaline. Nicotine’s memory-boosting effects are particularly impressive, with one study finding that nicotine, in the form of gum, managed to significantly affect short-term memory [11].

As well as improving memory, nicotine may also be able to increase a person’s IQ.

One study found that nicotine consumption resulted in significantly higher scores on an intelligence test when compared to the scores of participants who didn’t consume nicotine [12]. While this study used cigarettes to deliver nicotine, it is thought that nicotine alone was responsible for this IQ boost by improving processing speed and decision time, key elementary components of a higher IQ.

Nicotine has also been found in multiple studies to have a positive effect on patients with ADHD [13]. ADHD is a cognitive disorder that can result in difficulty focusing, poor impulse control, and low self-esteem.

Research tells us that nicotine can reduce depressive symptoms, overall ADHD symptoms, and increase enthusiasm levels [14]. With so many symptoms related to cognitive functioning, nicotine’s ability to reduce some of the symptoms of ADHD highlights its effectiveness as a nootropic.

It is important when using nicotine as a nootropic to take an appropriate form and dose.

Smoking or inhaling nicotine has many proven negative side effects, so it’s best to consume nicotine in an edible form like gum. Vaping is also an option, but due to the negative effects of inhaling nicotine, it’s advisable to stick to edible forms.

Since nicotine’s actions on dopamine also make it a risk for becoming an addictive substance, keep to a low dose of 1-4mg and take regular days off to keep your tolerance low. Using nicotine intermittently with other nootropics such as caffeine is a great way to reduce your dependency risk while still experiencing its cognitive benefits.


Can Caffeine and Nicotine Be Taken Together?

Nicotine and caffeine have a lot of similarities. Both are associated with other substances, and both can act as strong nootropics when consumed safely.

The impact on dopamine is an important part of nicotine’s cognitive effects, and caffeine increases dopamine levels in much the same way. If you are looking for something to help with the alertness, mood enhancement, and energy that you receive from your daily cup of coffee, nicotine may be a great nootropic to add to your routine.

Although similar, there are some benefits that you can only get from nicotine. One study comparing nicotine and caffeine consumption found that nicotine increased feelings of pleasantness, vigor, and concentration levels, while the same increase was not seen with caffeine consumption [15].

Overall, combining nicotine gum or lozenges with a cup or two of coffee a day is a great way to increase cognition and focus.


Nicotine as a Nootropic | The Verdict

The reality?

Nicotine is a fantastic nootropic that has the potential to improve your mood, memory, attention span, and possibly even help to protect you from neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.

Nicotine is far more powerful as a nootropic or cognitive enhancer than most think! Combined with coffee and you'll be in the zone.

However…

While cigarettes are well-known for their negative effects, to make the most out of nicotine and reduce your risk of side effects, it’s best to NOT consume nicotine in an inhalable form.

Intermittently using nicotine, keeping the dosage low, and avoiding inhalation will help to reduce your risk of addiction while still helping you keep the positive cognitive effects of nicotine in your nootropic routine.

Here at Nootropics Advisor, we've found gum to be the preferred method to consume nicotine.

References

  1. Steppuhn, A., Gase, K., Krock, B., Halitschke, R., & Baldwin, I. T. (2004). Nicotine’s Defensive Function in Nature. PLoS Biology, 2(8), e217. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15314646/
  2. Ma, C., Liu, Y., Neumann, S., & Gao, X. (2017). Nicotine from cigarette smoking and diet and Parkinson disease: a review. Translational Neurodegeneration, 6(1). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5494127/
  3. Harvard Health Publishing. (2014, March 9). Nicotine: It may have a good side. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Nicotine_It_may_have_a_good_side
  4. Chaturvedi, P., Mishra, A., Datta, S., Sinukumar, S., Joshi, P., & Garg, A. (2015). Harmful effects of nicotine. Indian Journal of Medical and Paediatric Oncology, 36(1), 24. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4363846/
  5. Ma, C., Liu, Y., Neumann, S., & Gao, X. (2017b). Nicotine from cigarette smoking and diet and Parkinson disease: a review. Translational Neurodegeneration, 6(1). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5494127/
  6. Cisternino, S., Chapy, H., André, P., Smirnova, M., Debray, M., & Scherrmann, J.-M. (2012). Coexistence of Passive and Proton Antiporter-Mediated Processes in Nicotine Transport at the Mouse Blood–Brain Barrier. The AAPS Journal, 15(2), 299–307. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3675746/
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US). (2014). The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24455788
  8. Chaturvedi, P., Mishra, A., Datta, S., Sinukumar, S., Joshi, P., & Garg, A. (2015b). Harmful effects of nicotine. Indian Journal of Medical and Paediatric Oncology, 36(1), 24. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4363846/
  9. Chaturvedi, P., Mishra, A., Datta, S., Sinukumar, S., Joshi, P., & Garg, A. (2015b). Harmful effects of nicotine. Indian Journal of Medical and Paediatric Oncology, 36(1), 24. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4363846/
  10. Chaturvedi, P., Mishra, A., Datta, S., Sinukumar, S., Joshi, P., & Garg, A. (2015b). Harmful effects of nicotine. Indian Journal of Medical and Paediatric Oncology, 36(1), 24. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4363846/
  11. Phillips, S., & Fox, P. (1998). An investigation into the effects of nicotine gum on short-term memory. Psychopharmacology, 140(4), 429–433. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9888618/
  12. Stough, C., Mangan, G., Bates, T., & Pellett, O. (1994). Smoking and raven IQ. Psychopharmacology, 116(3), 382–384. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7892431/
  13. Levin, E. D., Conners, C. K., Sparrow, E., Hinton, S. C., Erhardt, D., Meck, W. H., … March, J. (1996). Nicotine effects on adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Psychopharmacology, 123(1), 55–63. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8741955/
  14. Levin, Edward D., Conners, C. K., Silva, D., Canu, W., & March, J. (2001). Effects of chronic nicotine and methylphenidate in adults with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 9(1), 83–90. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11519638/
  15. Gilbert, D. G., Dibb, W. D., Plath, L. C., & Hiyane, S. G. (2000). Effects of nicotine and caffeine, separately and in combination, on EEG topography, mood, heart rate, cortisol, and vigilance. Psychophysiology, 37(5), 583–595. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11037035

Jake

After utilizing nootropics for the better part of a decade, I realized the potent results these products produce -- with regards to productivity and cognitive enhancement. Soon thereafter, I became obsessed with finding the premier smart drugs on the market. Then using them to improve my life. When I'm not devouring everything I can about nootropics and the science behind why they work, you'll find me traveling around the world or in the gym.

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