Can Nicotine Make Your Brain Work Better?

New Research Finds That Nicotine Has A Positive Impact On Attention Span

New research finds that nicotine has a positive impact on attention span.

Many smokers frequently say they enjoy using tobacco because it helps them pay attention. Vapers say that the act of using an electronic cigarette aids them to focus on a subject, but is it true? A research team has examined almost forty studies to see if there is a link between using nicotine and improved attention and memory.

Who completed the study?

  • Alireza Majdi, Neurosciences Research Center – Tabriz University of Medical Sciences, Tabriz, Iran
  • Saeed Sadigh-Eteghad – Neurosciences Research Center, Tabriz University of Medical Sciences, Tabriz, Iran
  • Albert Gjedde – Neurosciences Research Center, Tabriz University of Medical Sciences, Tabriz, Iran; Department of Clinical Research, Translational Neuropsychiatry Unit, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark; Department of Neuroscience, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark; Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada

What did they say about nicotine before conducting their work?
The trio said that nicotine acts on special receptors called nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the brain. This is associated with a reduction in damage to neurons (such as what happens with Alzheimer disease, Parkinson’s disease, or stroke). They said it actually helps to protect the nerve cells.

What did they want to find?
The team wanted to see if the use of nicotine replacement patches by healthy non-smoking adults had an impact on cognitive functions.

How did they plan to carry out the research?
They used a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials.

What is a systematic review?
Cochrane Library defines a systematic review as: “A review (that) attempts to identify, appraise and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a specific research question. Researchers conducting systematic reviews use explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view aimed at minimising bias, to produce more reliable findings to inform decision making.” (1)

What is a meta-analysis?
Shorten and Shorten define a meta-analysis as: “Meta-analysis is a research process used to systematically synthesise or merge the findings of single, independent studies, using statistical methods to calculate an overall or ‘absolute’ effect.” (2)

What work did they identify to look at?
They write: “We included reports of clinical trials comparing the effects of nicotine patches with placebo in healthy non-smoking adults. The main outcome was the impact of nicotine patches on overall cognitive function with a focus on attention and memory. Standard meta-analytic and statistical methods measured the effect of transdermal nicotine compared with placebo patches.”

In total, they identified 31 publications involving 978 subjects.


What were their results?

  • Nicotine patches boosted cognitive function in healthy adults with evidence to a modest level.
  • Nicotine patches improved attention with evidence to a low level.

The confidence levels indicate how much the data they found supports the finding.

What did they conclude?
The meta-analysis showed that transdermal nicotine had statistically significant positive effects on attention, and non-significant effects on memory, in healthy non-smoking adults. The results encourage further studies of the therapeutic potential of nicotine patches in disorders of cognition.” (3)

What does this mean?
Their findings show that nicotine improves people’s ability to pay attention but there is a lack of evidence to say that it improves memory.

Reference:

  1. What is a systematic review?
  2. What is a meta-analysis?
  3. A meta‐analysis on the effects of transdermal nicotine delivery on cognitive outcomes.