In a small village in modern day South Dakota, native Americans of the Sioux tribe gathered to smoke a peace pipe. In the late 17th century, the Sioux entered into an alliance with French fur traders and tobacco was a key tradition for solidifying amicable relations .
As they enjoyed the pipe and ceremony, these native tribes also relished the benefits of nicotine. The pleasant sensation they experienced was akin to modern wealthy cigar smokers, shisha toting people of the Middle East, and many other stereotypical smoking experiences.
Although most people enjoy the pleasant sensations of tobacco, there are far more benefits of nicotine for optimizing mental performance.
Our objective is help you to capture all the nicotine health benefits without the tobacco and without the side effects. Below are the many benefits of using nicotine as a nootropic, but also a stern warning about the side effects.
What is Nicotine?
Nicotine is different from tobacco. The cigarettes and other methods of consuming tobacco smoke are not healthy. Historically, most tobacco was smoked in moderation and for ceremonial purposes.
According to the World Health Organization, tobacco is the #1 preventable cause of death worldwide . If you want to optimize mental or physical performance, do not use tobacco.
Nicotine is the psychoactive ingredient in tobacco that provides many of the psychoactive effects. It is classified as an alkaloid stimulant and with modern technology, we no longer need to use cigarettes in order to consume nicotine (thereby avoiding many, though not all, of the risks).
Health Benefits of Nicotine
Nicotine affects nearly every aspect of cognition. Evidence suggests it can improve focus, concentration, memory, refine motor skills, act as a neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and creativity.
It can be a powerful force for good, but also an addictive force for evil. While there are many benefits of nicotine, one must wield the power responsibly.
Focus and Concentration – nicotine is a powerful alertness enhancer and stimulant. In numerous studies, nicotine improves attention and “processing speed” . For those who enjoy a cup of coffee, this is a stimulant with many of the same effects.
Those struggling with ADHD are a perfect example. Nicotine can reduce the severity of ADHD symptoms  and increase attention span . Given the alternative to nicotine is amphetamine-based Adderall, it may not be a bad replacement.
Memory and Learning – rarely do focus and concentration go hand in hand with memory and learning. Nicotine helps increase long term memory in both humans and animals . The compound can also help with the memory consolidation (learning) process as well .
One theory suggests that nicotine is useful as a memory enhancer because it can increase a hormone called vasopressin , but there are probably many mechanisms at play.
Neuroprotection – when I think of stimulants, long-term anti-aging and longevity rarely comes to mind. I remain skeptical, but research looks promising. Nicotine helps to block estrogen, stimulate nicotinic cholinergic receptors in the brain , and (most importantly) reduce inflammation .
In numerous studies, nicotine can reduce signs of inflammation (such as TNF-alpha)  and via other mechanisms. The results speak for themselves. Studies on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients both show promise.
Overall, smokers have fewer instances of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease . Other studies show potential for treating Alzheimer’s (not just a correlation) . Between these two diseases (which afflict tens of millions of people worldwide), there are dozens of studies showing the benefits of nicotine in these use cases.
Nicotine and Creativity
The stereotype artist is also a smoker. Depictions of famous writers and painters almost always include smoking and perhaps it has merit.
Creativity, an elusive and challenging skill to measure, is one of the cognitive metrics most biohackers and nootropics lovers try to achieve. Many are microdosing with LSD, but research suggests nicotine might be a useful tool.
By increasing alpha brain waves, nicotine acts similar to L-theanine in creating a mental state prone to creativity . Unlike L-theanine, there is no risk of sleepiness accompanying nicotine.
Another benefit of nicotine includes increasing activity between the two hemispheres of the brain (called bilateral neocortical activation) . Combined with increased brain activity in many visual and related parts of the brain, the chemical concoction from nicotine creates a mental state of flow and creativity .
How Does Nicotine Work?
Similar to most stimulants, nicotine interacts with the brain by increasing dopamine and noradrenaline . Beyond that, nicotine helps stimulate new blood vessels  (which has pros and cons as we’ll explain later). These neurotransmitter changes are a fraction of what goes on when consuming nicotine.
Activity between both hemispheres of the brain increases, alpha brain waves start to ignite, and visual attention, arousal, and motor function turns into overdrive. All of these changes influence the focus, memory, creativity, and neuroprotection we have explained above.
Is Nicotine Good For You?
Not quite. Nicotine, like any chemical compound, is neither good nor bad. It is simply a tool and humans often choose to abuse this one.
There are almost no circumstances where tobacco is healthy for you, but nicotine can be useful in certain situations. When used properly, the nicotine health benefits can outweigh the risks. When they are not used properly, it can be harmful.
Here are some of the risks associated with nicotine:
- Increased tumor growth – because nicotine can increase blood vessel growth, it works as a positive and a negative. In this case, it increases tumor growth in many forms of cancers . This makes any cancer from tobacco carcinogens even worse .
- Under 25 should steer clear – adolescent users should avoid nicotine because it hampers growth of the prefrontal cortex  and use of the drug early on increases risk of cognitive impairment later in life .
- Nicotine is addictive – one side effect of nicotine most people can relate to is the addiction potential. Quitting a nicotine habit can cause numerous and significant withdrawal effects .
These are significant risks and not for the feint of heart. Below I’ll explain a simple regime to use nicotine for cognitive enhancing purposes, but be warned of these side effects beforehand.
How to Dose A Nicotine Nootropic
Many people who consume nicotine for cognitive enhancement do so with a lozenge. A nicotine lozenge is perhaps the most efficient way of ingesting the substance without smoking tobacco, but there are many alternatives.
Here are some alternatives from the community and problems or side effects (in parenthesis):
- Gum (throat burn)
- Patch (expensive)
- Vaporizing (unknown health effects of using vaporized propylene glycol / vegetable glycerin)
- Liquid drops
The liquid drops, while experimental, seems to have some credence within the nootropics community:
“...I now use a delivery method that is very discrete, cheaper, and perhaps even safer than vaping or chewing gum. I buy max-vg nicotine e-liquid (24mg/ml nicotine concentration). Where I buy it, 30ml is about $7. It comes in a dropper bottle, and I apply 2 drops to the back of my hand and rub it in like lotion. I weighed it out, and 2 drops with my containers works out to about 1.4mg of nicotine; if two drops is one dose, there are approximately 525 doses in the bottle (1.3 cents per dose!)...”  – gzone404
This administration method seems to work as well (or better) as other types. Nicotine should be cycled routinely throughout the week. Small doses are best in this situation and spreading out usage over the week will help avoid any addiction potential.
Selected Community Experiences
While unscientific, the anecdotal evidence from select community members online can help to determine what potential gain there is from using nicotine. There may be significant risks associated with the substance, but some are finding it valuable. From the same person as above:
“I've been using nicotine as a nootropic for the past 2-3 months and my experience has been very, very good. I used to have huge issues with procrastination and getting distracted while trying to get things done, but I've found that nicotine has greatly improved my ability to concentrate, focus, and actually enjoy learning. I am a graduate student, and I've found that nicotine has given me the machine-like ability to get up in the morning and work continuously on readings and research until the evening, without getting distracted.” – gzone404
“I can say that (for me personally) nicotine is almost on par for “most life changing” status as LSD. The difference (again for me personally) is that while LSD is mostly benign and enlightening, nicotine is a double edged sword. It can be an EXTREMELY powerful boost to baseline cognitive ability, but depending on a number of factors (genetics being the first that comes to mind), the addiction factor becomes very hard to ignore...” – empty_optimist
Getting Started with Nicotine
Whatever you choose to do, recognize that the benefits of nicotine may not outweigh the risks. This is certainly true when addiction poses a problem for genetic or environmental reasons. We do not recommend a drug like nicotine, but hope to create a more realistic and less jaded approach to the substance. Just because it is associated with tobacco doesn’t make it bad.
Those who have a disposition towards addiction or have an addictive personality may want to steer clear. For others, it might be a useful nootropic tool in our toolbelt to increase focus, memory, creativity, and other aspects of our cognition.
- References (Click to Expand)
- Gerry van Houten, Corporate Canada An Historical Outline. 1991. pg. 6–8