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Does Nicotine Affect Serotonin & Does Nicotine Kill Brain Cells?

Nicotine is a compound that is found in plants which belong to the nightshade family including tobacco plants. Nicotine has a wide range of side effects on the body including tobacco dependency which is highly addictive and difficult to overcome. While most people consume tobacco through smoking, chewing or snorting tobacco results in more release of nicotine in the body compared to smoking. Other than that, nicotine is considered a stimulant as well as a sedative. The nicotine stimulates your body by instigating the adrenal glands, which in turn release adrenaline. The adrenaline then stimulates the body and causes an immediate release of glucose, and increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.[1]

Does Nicotine Affect Serotonin?

Does Nicotine Affect Serotonin?

Serotonin is an important chemical that helps in the regulation of mood and depression. In the brain stem, serotonin helps with regulating your heart rate, respiration, as well as arousal from sleep.[2] In a study conducted on the effects of nicotine on serotonin (5-HT) levels in the brain of depressed rats, it was concluded that nicotine had a significant antidepressant action. This means that nicotine increases serotonergic energy, thus resulting in the reduction of depression. Over time, due to the release of large amounts of serotonin, nicotine causes a significant depletion of the neurotransmitter thus leading to negative psychological aftermaths.[3]

On the other hand, nicotine exposure especially early in fetal development has adverse effects on the synaptic development and function of serotonin systems. In other words, nicotine exposure to a fetus alters the functionality of serotonin thus resulting in reduced levels of the serotonin turnover in various areas of the brain including the brainstem. For humans, the effects of nicotine exposure to infants have been associated with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). According to autopsy results, it shows that such infants have a significantly higher number of serotonin-producing neurons but a lower density of serotonin receptor binding sites in regions of the medulla that control some homeostatic functions.[2]

Does Nicotine Kill Brain Cells?

Nicotine exposure does interfere with several neurotransmitters in the brain. Also, nicotine has been found to kill brain cells and also stop the development of new brain cells. The largely affected area is the hippocampus, in particular, the dentate gyrus, which is involved with memory, therefore, it explains a lot why many smokers experience cognitive problems. In an experiment where rats self-administered on nicotine for six weeks on a daily basis, it was found that creation of new neurons in the hippocampus was cut by 50% and cell death was at a high rate.

The exact way in which nicotine kills brain cells is unclear. However, according to research conducted on fetal exposure, nicotine can induce apoptosis, which is programmed cell death in immature cells. It is possible that nicotine can kill brain cells in other areas other than the dentate gyrate, but this particular region is known to form new cells in the adult, which means immature cells are more present.[3]

Why Nicotine Is Harmful To Your Health

Nicotine might not be carcinogenic, but it is highly addictive and is believed to be 5-10 times more potent than cocaine and morphine. After exposure to nicotine, either through inhalation, snorting, or chewing, it takes about 20 seconds to reach the brain and the effects are felt within a minute or so. Nicotine dependency is hard to get over, and even in cases where people are successful in abstaining, some are not able to abstain for longer than a year.

Other than addiction, nicotine interferes with several neurotransmitters including serotonin, in the long run, resulting in decreased serotonin levels. It also has a negative psychological aftereffect especially for those in the withdrawal stage. For pregnant women who smoke during the pregnancy, they expose their infants to SIDS and impaired functionality of serotonin. Smoking, in general, has a number of negative side effects including death, reduced quality of life, and increased risk of diseases including heart attack, lung cancer, and other cardiovascular illnesses.[5]


Nicotine is a substance that is commonly found in tobacco, thus smoking tobacco cigarettes, chewing or snorting the substance, exposes you to the adverse side effects of the substance abuse. Although a stimulant, and has proved beneficial in cases of depression, the long-term effects are not so beneficial. Due to the constant release of serotonin, over time the levels released decreases, and thereafter, one is likely to have negative psychological effects. Nonetheless, nicotine interferes with new brain cells development which often causes cognitive impairment, especially after quitting, or in the withdrawal stage.


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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 10, 2019

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