Wait. Nicotine is a Nootropic?.
Just a few years back when I heard the word nicotine, the ONLY thing that would pop into my head were images of cigarettes along with a whole host of emotions around how horrible they were for your health. Both of my parents smoked when I was a child and I hated it. Until recently I had very little data on nicotine. My brain only had "files" on cigarettes and the innumerable & very real health concerns surrounding them.
Boy do things change. And how fantastic that they do! I had no idea that nicotine was a nootropic superstar with amazing acetylcholine boosting properties. I was first introduced to Nicotine in the form of gum by my brother who was introduced to it by a friend who was an ultra runner. I was shocked to hear that nicotine gum was a tool regularly employed by ultra runners! That was the spark that led me down the Nicotine as a nootropic rabbit hole.
I've come to love nicotine gum as an additional and trusty tool in my nootropic tool box.
This quote from a Scientific American article entitled: Will a Nicotine Patch Make You Smarter? says it all: “To my knowledge, nicotine is the most reliable cognitive enhancer that we currently have, bizarrely,” said Jennifer Rusted, professor of experimental psychology at Sussex University in Britain. “The cognitive-enhancing effects of nicotine in a normal population are more robust than you get with any other agent" We highly recommend reading the full article.
I'm happily chewing on a piece of nicotine gum right now! It's fantastic when I want to add an additional measure of focus & drive to either a cognitive or physical endeavor.
Here's a quick look at some of the benefits the Nicotine molecule has been shown to confer:
To start, nicotine has been shown to bring about more precise and rapid motor function. In studies, people show more fluent and controlled handwriting after taking nicotine and in a finger tap test subjects were able to tap their fingers faster without any sacrifice in accuracy.
Nicotine has been shown to increase vigilance as well. Study participants who used nicotine patches were able to pay attention to mentally exhausting tasks longer than controls could. Nicotine gum was shown to create this same increase in attention and vigilance.
Nicotine also sharpens short-term memory. People who took nicotine better recalled lists of words they’d just read, and they were better able to repeat a story word-for-word, making far fewer mistakes than people given a placebo. And again, this boost in memory came both from nicotine patches and gum.
How is nicotine affecting cognition in such positive ways?
When nicotine gets into our brains, it attaches to acetylcholine receptors and mimics the actions of acetylcholine. Nicotine binds to a particular type of acetylcholine receptor, known as the nicotinic receptor. Nicotine also nudges dopamine, which plays an important role in modulating attention
Acetylcholine is a neuromodulator. Neuromodulators are little molecules used by our nerve cells to signal to and help regulate other nerve cells. Acetlycholine plays a critical role in cognitive function. In ALL types of memory: long-term memory, memory formation, memory consolidation, AND memory retrieval, acetylcholine is there doing the heavy lifting.
Whether it's acetylcholine or nicotine binding to this acetylcholine receptor, the response is the same. Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, or nAChRs, are receptor proteins that respond to the neuromodulator acetylcholine.
To re-cap: Human studies have demonstrated that nicotine has cognitive-function enhancing effects, including improvement of fine motor functions, attention, working memory, and episodic memory.
Nicotine's cognitive function enhancing properties have gained significant attention in recent years. Many non-smokers have even started using nicotine gum or patches as nootropic agents. I know I have personally come to love nicotine gum as an easy to use on-demand tool for increasing focus for both cognitive and physical work.
Should you try it? That we cannot say. We can only share with you what we learn as we experiment with new substances & engage in new self optimizing activities in our own lives. At the very least, do some reading and have fun learning about the potentialities of Nicotine as a nootropic.