Nicotine and its effects on cognition

It’s no secret that college students consume caffeine in various forms order to get them through early classes, late studying sessions, last minute papers, and other situations where it may appear that your grade is dependent on how many hours you can stay awake and attentive in a cram session the night before an exam. But what about nicotine? Some have claimed that smoking cigarettes can help them focus and calm down. There may be some truth to this claim! Research has been done (and is still currently being conducted!) on nicotine to see if there is any connection to the consumption of the drug and the ability to pay attention.

In a study conducted by Jason Smucny, Ann Olincy, and Lindsay Eichman titled “Neuronal Effects of Nicotine During Auditory Selective Attention”, published in Psychopharmacology on December 10, 2014, research showed that there is a relationship between nicotine consumption through smoking and auditory selective attention. The study revealed that there was a connection between the drug, the difficulty level of the exercises given to the subjects during testing, and the level of distraction that was also provided in the experiment (Smucny, Olincy, and Eichman 2026). Despite this connection, the authors of the study mentioned that there weren’t any significant changes in behavior from the experiment (Smucny, Olincy, and Eichman 2027). Along with this, there was a lot of variability in the study and further research needs to be conducted (Smucny, Olincy, and Eichman 2026).

Research on cognition enhancers has been a hot research topic, so I’m confident more information on the relationship between nicotine and cognition, caffeine and cognition, and the relationships between other drugs and the way we function will be published in the near future. This is a start to more research being conducted to provide more information on cognitive enhancers.

If you would like to read more regarding the study that was conducted, please take a look at the citation at the bottom of the page. I’ll update this post with a link to the study if anyone is interested.

Smucny, J., Olincy, A., Eichman, L. S., & Tregellas, J. R. (2014). Neuronal effects of nicotine during auditory selective attention. Psychopharmacology, 232(11), 2017-2028. doi:10.1007/s00213-014-3832-7

Any images used in this post or on this blog have been downloaded from Unsplash and have been licensed under Creative Commons Zero.


One thought on “Nicotine and its effects on cognition

  1. Great write up Christina! It’s interesting to see that a drug that is socially seen as a highly negative entity, does have some capacity for positive effects on cognition. You mentioned that caffeine has been a classic chemical that has some positive correlation with attention. It is no surprise then, that nicotine, which is a stimulant by classification, has a similar effect. It would be interesting to see a study that can somehow compare the two chemicals and their effects on cognition to see which is more effective. Although these chemicals are useful in the short-term, they have some long-term effects. The human body can become dependent on both chemicals, however, the side-effects of caffeine is much more diluted than those of nicotine. (*Actually it is the consumption of nicotine through smoking that causes more of the side effects than the nicotine itself.) Would there be a way to explore the side effects of nicotine as a pure substance and if those results are promising, to use this chemical as an alternative to caffeine or other stimulant drugs like amphetamines. This research is compelling and may lead to some findings that flip our understanding of how we view these drugs/chemicals. Great work!


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