Think nicotine and what comes to mind?
If you’re like most people, you’ll probably conjure up images of cigarettes and cancer.
But, there’s another side to nicotine that you may not be familiar with.
It has been touted as a brain boosting nootropic.
What’s up with that?
Is it safe? Will you get addicted? In this article, we’ll delve into nicotine’s cognitive enhancing abilities, its other benefits and how it can actually harm you. We’ll also take you through the many different options that you have for consuming it.
Before We Get Started
- 1 Before We Get Started
- 2 What Is Nicotine?
- 3 Nicotine The Nootropic
- 4 Other Benefits
- 5 The Drawbacks Of Nicotine
- 6 The Many Ways To Consume it
- 7 Nicotine Gum/lozenges
- 8 Summary: All Methods Compared
Nootropics and cognitive enhancement products are a great way to try and get the best out of our day, but it’s important to remember that we shouldn’t depend on them to be able to function at all.
That being said, it’s important to remember what you are capable of without nootropics. Having nicotine as an option when you need to focus is great, but make sure you’re using it responsibly in order to keep your lifestyle healthy.
What Is Nicotine?
Nicotine is an alkaloid found mainly in tobacco plants, and most commonly known as the psychoactive/addictive ingredient in cigarettes. However, did you know you could actually find lower quantities of nicotine in several plants?
The majority of cigarettes have about 8-9mg of nicotine each, 12mg on average, and around 1mg per cigarette ends up making it to the bloodstream.
Nicotine can also be found in trace amounts in green peppers and black tea!
Nicotine is both a sedative and a stimulant, which causes us to feel alert and relaxed at the same time. It stimulates our adrenal glands, and releases adrenaline, which increases heart rate, breathing activity, blood pressure and also causes an instant release of glucose. It also causes the release of dopamine and BDNF in the brain, which gives people a pleasurable euphoric sensation.
The reason why nicotine is considered poisonous is because it only needs a relatively small amount to have toxic effects (40-60mg or about 5 cigarettes).
Cigarettes vs. Nicotine By Itself
Cigarettes are a very different story. Cigarettes are known to be one of the top causes for preventable deaths all over the world. People automatically attribute this to its nicotine content, but the reality is, cigarettes have over 7,000 other chemicals that are the actual culprits for its health hazards (for the most part, at least).
Some of those include:
- Carbon monoxide
- Hydrogen cyanide
Michael Russell, one of the first people to go after tobacco companies famously said: “People smoke for the nicotine, but they die from the tar.”
Here are some key differences found between cigarettes and nicotine just by itself:
Nicotine Is Not As Addictive By Itself
For the longest time, scientists have always looked at nicotine addiction in the context of cigarettes. However, research is recently showing that nicotine may not be that addictive by itself.
Some studies show that trying to get mice addicted is actually pretty difficult unless there are other cigarettes chemicals present to help make that happen. Tobacco companies have also been previously caught changing the chemical components of cigarettes to make them more addictive. This includes adding chemicals like MAOIs (found in antidepressants) that give smokers a “cigarette high.”
Some experts equate nicotine addiction (when taken alone) to that of caffeine- something that can cause powerful withdrawal symptoms, but is still manageable.
Nicotine Isn’t Cancerous
Studies are also starting to show that nicotine isn’t what’s cancerous about cigarettes; it’s mainly all its other components plus the products created from burning tobacco. Nicotine by itself has been shown to cause DNA damage and suppress DNA repair mechanisms in mice- both associated with cancer. However, there’s no evidence that this leads to the development of cancers.
Other studies have shown that nicotine actually has DNA protective properties.
Nicotine The Nootropic
Smokers would tell you that smoking helps them concentrate, enhances their creative ability and in some weird way makes them feel better. But this could just be the addiction talking.
However, studies have shown that nicotine does seem to have remarkable cognitive enhancing abilities even on non-smokers.
Enhances Psychomotor Ability
Several studies have shown that nicotine improves motor movements. In other words, it helps our minds better coordinate our muscles. This has been shown to be true for hand and finger movements (so it could be good for handwriting or typing notes on your computer for an upcoming test).
Because of this, scientists are also exploring the option of using nicotine as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease. Research has shown that even smoking cigarettes was associated with lower instances of Parkinson’s (although a causal link hasn’t yet been established).
Makes You Alert And Spatially Aware
Studies have also shown that nicotine decreases reaction time (making you more alert), and makes you more spatially aware of your body and your surroundings.
Nicotine’s mental alertness effects are similar to that of caffeine minus side effects like jitteriness and insomnia. Therefore, if you feel you want an alternative to caffeine that won’t risk you not being able to go to sleep at night, you should consider nicotine products.
Nicotine also has a lower half-life than caffeine, so it doesn’t stay in your system as long.
Enhances Cognitive Performance
Studies have also shown that nicotine enhances cognitive performance. People are more able to perceive and comprehend concepts when on nicotine, even if they don’t usually consume it. It also seems to significantly improve short-term memory.
Many performers like comedians and TV show hosts that need their minds to be clear and in check talk about smoking a vape or chewing nicotine gum to keep them sharp before a show. For that reason, some people refer to nicotine as a “smart drug.”
Nicotine And Mental Illnesses
Nicotine has also shown some positive signs for being able to help curb symptoms of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. Since nicotine (in inhaler form) is a social drug, this could also be part of the reason why it has a particularly psychologically relieving effect.
However, this seems to be very dependent on how dependent you are on nicotine, as it can also start to have the opposite effect, especially if you dip into withdrawal.
Studies have also shown that nicotine improves cognitive health that’s otherwise compromised in schizophrenic patients and even helps with the side effects of antipsychotics.
Science has also recently found hope for using nicotine as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that it seemed to worsen some aspects of the disease, but significantly improve others, probably because of its protection against cognitive decline!
Nicotine also has other benefits besides being a mental booster:
Because of its ability to enhance psychomotor and spatial orientation, nicotine could also improve athletic performance! Several studies have shown that nicotine showed improvements in muscular strength and power, exercise endurance and high intensity exercise.
Studies that tested this through tobacco products showed no effects and sometimes inverse effects!
Research also shows that nicotine gum is a good way to curb your appetite. This also seems to be enhanced if you also consume caffeine with it, as it amplifies its “fullness” effects. You may have heard of the “coffee and cigarettes diet,” where people joke about losing weight simply from drinking coffee and smoking all day- it’s actually scientifically proven to be true.
Caffeine alone has no significant effect on appetite, although some ingredients in coffee do.
The Drawbacks Of Nicotine
It’s important not to get too excited, however, because nicotine does still have some health hazards, even if they don’t kill you. Here are some negative aspects to be aware of as well:
Even though nicotine isn’t as addictive by itself, you should be careful about consuming too much of it. If you’ve ever experienced withdrawal from caffeine, you’d know that even though it’s not like heroin withdrawals, it’s still something you’d want to avoid.
Withdrawal symptoms from nicotine include:
- Depression and anxiety
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased appetite
- Restlessness/ tremors
- Constipation/gastrointestinal discomfort
Aside from withdrawal symptoms, a lot of the cognitive benefits you’re looking for may not be as attainable if your body has become to habituated to nicotine. Therefore, it’s probably best that you start with small doses. The smallest available doses of nicotine start at 2mg.
Raises Blood Pressure
Smokers usually see high blood pressure problems. However, recent evidence regarding vape pens have shown similar effects as well.
For that reason, some studies have been looking into the possibility of using nicotine as a potential treatment for low blood pressure.
However, studies have also shown that alternative nicotine products like nicotine patches showed no effect on cardiovascular health.
Speeds Up Plaque & Tumor Growth
Nicotine may not cause cancer, but it does stimulate new blood vessel formation and generally increases blood flow in the body. This can help tumors grow as it gives it more access to your blood stream.
It’s also been shown to increase plaque growth inside arteries, which increases risk of stroke and heart attacks.
Therefore, it’s important that you stay clear of nicotine entirely if you have cancer, are cancer-prone, or just got rid of a tumor.
When To Stay Away From Nicotine
You should generally steer clear of nicotine in the case of:
- Pregnancy (or lactation)
- Pre-existing high blood pressure problems
- History of blood clots (stroke, heart attack etc.)
- Cancer/predisposed to cancer/history of cancer
- Under the age of 21
The Many Ways To Consume it
There are plenty of ways you can consume nicotine for a good mental boost. All of these were usually used for Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) to get people to stop smoking, but now that the benefits of pure nicotine are becoming more known, more people are starting to use them for their cognitive enhancement qualities.
Smoking tobacco is an obvious way to consume nicotine, but given tobacco’s proven health hazards, we won’t be recommending smoked or non-smoked tobacco options.
Vape Pen/ (E-cigarettes)
This is the most efficient way to consume nicotine. Inhaling nicotine gives you an instant hit without all the nasty stuff that’s in cigarettes.
Despite that, scientists are still debating whether or not vape pens have other potential long-term health hazards, so approach with caution.
The fun part about vaping is that you have a multitude of flavors to pick from and there are a variety of creative vape pens you can buy. There are even places that help you customize your own.
You can also control the amount of nicotine you get. You can fill your vape pen with either liquid nicotine base, or nicotine salts.
1) Liquid Nicotine Base
Liquid nicotine bases usually only contain nicotine, flavor, and either propylene glycol (PG), or vegetable glycerin (VG). Many liquid base brands provide ratios of both PG and VG depending on the experience you want. Most people enjoy from 70/30 to 30/70 blends.
PG is the most commonly used fluid in vape pens. It’s a petroleum by-product and food additive that’s found in pet food, toothpaste and many beauty/medical products. It’s a safe fluid that gives products a certain viscosity (e.g. shampoo or topical creams).
In vape pens, it’s what usually gives you a “throat hit” when you inhale- similar to what you feel when smoking tobacco.
Although it’s rare, make sure you don’t have an allergy to PG.
VG is a natural, vegetarian alternative for PG. It doesn’t carry flavor as well as PG, but it is sweeter, which some people prefer. It’s usually used as a sweetener as well as in baked goods to enhance their moisture retention.
It’s a lot thicker than PG, and so causes a much harder drag and is also “smoother” on the throat.
|Gives a tobacco-like “throat hit”||Smoother “throat hit”|
|Carries flavor well||Not as flavorful, but sweeter|
|Has a thicker drag|
|Natural + animal-friendly|
|Can reduce life of vape pen (because it’s very thick)|
Both can cause dry mouth, sore throat & increased thirst, so make sure you drink more water than usual while vaping.
2) Nicotine Salts
Nicotine salts (also known as salt nics) are considered just as safe as liquid nicotine bases.
The main upside to nicotine salts is that they allow for higher nicotine concentrations, because it’s generally smoother on the throat. This is particularly good for smokers looking to get off cigarettes.
They’re described as more satisfying than liquid bases, probably because it gets absorbed faster. It produces less smoke and is more expensive than liquid bases, but is more cost-effective, since it lasts longer.
|Liquid Base||Nicotine Salts|
|-Less nicotine||-Higher nicotine levels|
|-Wider variety of flavors (but is affected by liquid base flavor)||-Smoother on the throat|
|-Can be used on any device||-Closer to cigarette satisfaction|
|-More available in the market||-Better flavor|
|-Less expensive||-Can be used on lower watt devices|
|-Less cloud-like smoke|
|-More expensive, but more bank for your buck!|
Nicotine gum and lozenges are another common way of getting nicotine. The nicotine is usually absorbed through the walls of the mouth into the blood vessels right away- not as fast as inhaling it but still pretty fast. Some of the nicotine is also swallowed, so it gives you a prolonged effect as well, as it’s also absorbed through your digestive system 20-30 minutes later.
The doses for nicotime gum and lozenges are usually 2 and 4mg (one sixth to one third of a cigarette), although there other concentrations available.
A couple of side effects you may not expect from nicotine gum are the hiccups and throat irritation. These are caused by chewing the gum too quickly, causing large amounts of nicotine to be swallowed too quickly.
Nicotine Nasal Spray
Nicotine nasal sprays act faster than nicotine gum, but as fast as vape pens. Mouth sprays are slower than nasal sprays but can be more enjoyable with given that they come in many flavors.
Unfortunately, nasal sprays aren’t available without a doctor’s prescription.
Nicotine patches transfer nicotine through your skin! The upside to patches is that it gives you a controlled dose of nicotine (5 to 21mg) throughout the day, although it’s slower than vape pens and nicotine gum.
The downside is that with nicotine patches, because it’s released slowly into your system, you’re less likely to see cognitive improvements as with faster methods of ingestion.
Summary: All Methods Compared
|All Nicotine Ingestion Methods|
|Vape Pens||Nasal Sprays||Gum/Lozenges||Transdermal patches|
|✔ Quickest hit||✔ Second quickest hit||✔ Third quickest hit||✔ Least quick|
|✔ Can provide high nicotine doses||✖ Lowest doses (0.5mg per nostril)||✔ Effects last longer (as it’s partly swallowed)||✔ Controlled release|
|✔ Has wide variety of flavors||✖ Needs prescription||✔ Least expensive||✔ Moderate to high doses (5 to 21mg)|
|✔ Can be done throughout the day||✖ Maximum 5 doses per hour (40 times a day).||✖ Low doses (2-4mg)||✖ Slow-acting|
|✔ Plenty of creative vape pens to buy||✖ Slow-acting||✖ Least likely to show cognitive enhancement|
|✖ Most expensive||✖ Can cause hiccups and throat irritation|