Nicotine Is a Cognitive Enhancer

There is another cholinergic system—nicotinic—in the brain that utilizes nicotine as its main neurotransmitter. Yes, this is the same nicotine that causes addiction to cigarettes! Nicotine stimulates the release of endorphins, which are the brain's natural morphinelike substances, and dopamine, which is involved in stimulating the reward-pleasure and arousal systems. The activating properties of nicotine, which make people more alert and aroused, may partly account for its addictive potential.

Nicotine receptors are deficient in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease. Initial studies using the nicotine skin patch in Alzheimer's patients were promising, but the latest studies have been negative. A broader question is whether nicotine can treat mild memory loss or prevent age-related memory loss. Early population-based studies suggested that smokers were less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, but recent work has discounted this theory. Simultaneous administration of nicotinic and muscarinic compounds has never been attempted in any clinical trial, largely because of the fear of increased cholinergic toxicity. At this stage, the data on nicotine are insufficient for me to recommend it as a therapeutic or preventive strategy against memory loss.

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