Nicotine Nootropic: How (and Why) We Got This Substance Wrong

As an American who has been educated around health, there is very little I judge as worse than smoking a cigarette. For better or for worse, the anti-tobacco and cigarette campaigns in the United States have fundamentally altered our cultural relationship with these substances.

But I never analyzed nicotine nootropic effects and considered them separately.

Nicotine is a psychoactive substance in tobacco and it is the main constituent, which supposedly causes the addictive qualities and desirable sensations. As much of the scientific research verifies, the ill-health effects of seem to be in the tobacco far more than the nicotine specifically.

With the help of a few enthusiastic self-experimenters, I have personally changed my stance on nicotine and found it to be a highly valuable nootropic only slightly less useful than caffeine.

This analysis of the nicotine nootropic effects will help you to determine if it is a valuable tool to improve cognitive performance and specifically how you can do so.

Nicotine Nootropic vs. Tobacco

The biggest challenge is separating nicotine from tobacco, which is culturally not an easy thing to achieve. Most of the arguments against nicotine are really directed at tobacco. Almost all of the ill-health effects associated with nicotine are actually from tobacco and specifically from smoking the substance.

The sensational news headlines conflate nicotine with tobacco making them one in the same when their effects are completely different.

[General Note: Neither tobacco nor nicotine are “bad” substances. How humans use them can be detrimental to our health just as any substance.]

It turns out tobacco is more easily abused by humans and is more detrimental.

People who are trying to quit smoking use nicotine patches and gum thinking that this will solve their problem, but nicotine isn’t as addictive as we might believe.

At least 8 studies show that nicotine is addictive when combined with MAOIs (mono-amine oxidase inhibitors), but not by itself [1][2][3].

Tobacco has MAOIs and numerous other compounds that add to the addictive nature of nicotine.

This does not mean that nicotine doesn’t carry addictive risks. It is a stimulant and there is evidence it can be addictive in animals [4], but the cigarette smoker addiction stereotype is far more severe and caused by the nicotine found in tobacco specifically. This shows tobacco vs. nicotine specifically:

nicotine nootropic

Nicotine Nootropic Benefits: What Can Nicotine Do?

Separating the nicotine nootropic effects from the risk of addiction makes the equation look a lot safer. Now that we know most of the nicotine risks are associated with tobacco consumption and specifically smoked cigarettes, it’s time to see what advantages high performers can experience.

First, the nicotine nootropic is a stimulant. It is one of the most common and popular stimulants in the world used almost as much as caffeine.

Most nootropic enthusiasts never include it in their nootropic stack for reasons of fear, but adding it back in can have a magnitude of positive effects.

For focus and concentration, there are studies showing nicotine improves ADHD symptoms [5]. A 1996 study published in Psychopharmacology Bulletin published with the title “Nicotine and Attention in Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)” and results “…indicate significant clinician-rated global improvement…” and that “Side effects were minimal.” [6]

Whether nicotine is an adequate replacement for amphetamine-based drugs like Adderall remains to be seen (and may depend on the individual), but this is positive for an over the counter substance either way.

Wakefulness Nicotine Nootropic Effects

Many nootropic enthusiasts gravitate towards modafinil and other drugs in the family (adrafinil, armodafinil) as a way of improving alertness and concentration. These drugs are all technically “wakefulness enhancers” according to scientific literature, which is why they are used instead of amphetamine drugs in the military etc.

Numerous studies show nicotine is a powerful wakefulness enhancer as well. One showed that pilots could improve their performance even on long hauls [7]. Other studies showed driving performance was enhanced [8] and evidence around overnight performance with memory and concentration [9].

In the overnight study, nicotine was found to boost their performance in sleep deprived situations. This may be one of the reasons why shift workers are quick to use cigarettes for performance enhancement purposes (when nicotine would do the trick with a fraction of the risk).

Learning and Memory Nicotine Nootropic Benefits

Nicotine, despite stimulatory properties, acts on the cholinergic system as opposed to the dopaminergic like other stimulants. The major stimulants that we use (including caffeine) are interacting with the dopamine system, but nicotine interacts with the same system as piracetam and other drugs in the racetam family.

According to some evidence, nicotine can boost IQ scores, which is a rarity in the literature [10]. IQ is typically considered to be fixed so any significant movement is taken with care.

Beyond IQ, there is evidence for positive effects on memory recognition [11], memory while under pressure (i.e: sleep deprivation), and general memory formation and learning [12].

The fact nicotine is a cholinergic nootropic provides an excellent opportunity to add it routinely to a nootropic stack without over utilizing certain mental systems.

As you’ll see in the next section, using nicotine in a specific way can be highly effective for performance.

Nicotine Nootropic: How To

Myths dispelled, benefits sold, you’re ready to utilize nicotine. This is great considering nicotine is one of the most powerful nootropics and typically comes at a cost of a few cents per dosage.

There are a few methods to consume nicotine safely for nootropic purposes:

  • Nicotine gum (my favorite)
  • Nicotine patches
  • Nicotine lozenge
  • Nicotine snuss packets
  • Nicotine e-cigarettes (vaping)

These are rated in most recommended to least recommended. Even these administration methods have some nasty connotations. Studies of users typically focus on people trying to stop a nicotine addiction through cigarettes. In one study of 28,000 people, only 0.007% were actually first-time nicotine users [13]. This confounds variables like addiction potential etc.

Personally, I have smoked a single drag of a cigarette, but never the full thing. There are many nootropic users that have never smoked or used nicotine, which means starting with a low dosage is a good idea.

Doses of 14 mg and above can harm performance so it is valuable to keep below that generally speaking [14].

Most nicotine gum products come in 4 mg doses, but nicotine naive (first time) users typically find it helpful to cut doses up.

A good place to start would be:

0.5 mg – 1 mg

This may be 1/4 – 1/8 a piece of nicotine gum, but it can be quite strong of a sensation so it is best to air on the side of caution.

The (potential) problem with nicotine is the quick half-life, which suggests that some people will want to continue re-dosing themselves to their detriment. My suggestion is to try 0.5 mg first, add another 0.5 mg when you need, and stop at 1 mg the first time you test.

Patches can similarly be cut in order to get the right dose. Lozenges are smaller and thus harder to get an accurate dose. The same is true of the snuss packages.

Vaping nicotine is my least favorite method because I don’t believe it’s good for our lungs to have that experience in any capacity. Generally, the more we can avoid smoking / vaping, the better in my opinion.

Cycling Nicotine

As we said above, nicotine can be highly stimulating, but it is a cholinergic compound separate from other stimulants like caffeine or modafinil.

This makes it a perfect candidate to take once in a while (or once in a couple weeks). A routine that includes cycling nicotine might look something like this over a two week period (Note: this is just what I’ve found personally works)

Week 1

Week 2

  • Monday – Microdosing LSD
  • Tuesday – Caffeine / L-Theanine
  • Wednesday – Qualia Mind (half dose)
  • Thursday – Phenylpiracetam
  • Friday – Caffeine / L-Theanine
  • Sat / Sun – No stimulating nootropics

That’s a basic cycling protocol that includes nicotine no more than one time per two weeks. Adding it once per week could work well, but be mindful of tolerance and any addiction potential that might exist for you genetically.

A Caution on Nicotine

Unfortunately, nicotine is not all sunshine and rainbows. As with any powerful compound, there are bound to be some powerful risks. Nicotine is no different.

One of the main problems (which is more of an inconvenience for nicotine nootropic users) is tolerance. Some people complain that nicotine requires higher doses in order to see similar effects. This can be remedied with the cycling protocol we mentioned above, however.

There are so risks as nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, which can increase blood pressure for those who already have an issue [15].

Other potential issues include:

  • May metabolize into a carcinogen (or may not)
  • Can impair neurogenesis in the hippocampus of rats (but this is at high doses and caffeine does too)
  • May increase insulin resistance (only 1 study found this and another contradicted it)

Finally, there is still some potential for individuals to become addicted to nicotine even though tobacco (and MAOIs generally) are the culprit when combined with nicotine. However, people find a way to become addicted to anything that provides a positive sensation or subjective feeling.

This potential exists in nearly all compounds. It is a good idea to pay close attention to how you interact with these substances and what time of relationship you have with them on an ongoing basis.

Nicotine is no magic pill, but it is a highly powerful nootropic compound with some tremendous benefits. More importantly, it is an underutilized tool due to misinformation and ignorance. With these studies and a clearer understanding of the isolated substance, it’s possible to leverage nicotine as a tool to improve performance and create the work you desire to make.

References (Click to Expand)

  1. http://www.jneurosci.org/content/25/38/8593
  2. http://www.nature.com/npp/journal/v31/n8/full/1300987a.html
  3. http://hmg.oxfordjournals.org/content/15/18/2721.full.pdf#page=1&view=FitH
  4. http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0000230
  5. https://www.gwern.net/docs/nicotine/1996-conners.pdf
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8927677
  7. http://www.nature.com/?file=/npp/journal/v28/n7/full/1300202a.html
  8. http://content.karger.com/ProdukteDB/produkte.asp?Doi=119229
  9. http://www.springerlink.com/content/f6gxhlj63peeytlr
  10. https://www.gwern.net/docs/nicotine/1994-stough.pdf
  11. http://www.springerlink.com/content/mrn6232427w6269q/
  12. https://www.cognitiongroup.com/publication/Cognitive_Effects_of_Nicotine_fMRI_published.pdf
  13. https://www.gwern.net/docs/nicotine/2008-gerlach.pdf
  14. https://www.gwern.net/docs/nicotine/2012-poltavski.pdf
  15. http://www.longecity.org/forum/topic/38572-nicotine-and-vasoconstriction/

Author

Mansal Denton is the founder of Nootropedia on a quest to inform users on effectively utilizing nootropics and smart drugs. His work has been featured in Forbes, Inc, Entrepreneur, and Vice.