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Does Nicotine Improve Memory & Does It Have A Calming Effect?

Nicotine is a drug substance that naturally occurs in tobacco products. Nicotine is known to have adverse effects on one’s health and attributes to nicotine addiction. Other than that, it influences cognitive performance and behavior[1]. Despite the negativity associated with nicotine, there may be some good that comes with this particular substance. In a certain research study, nicotine patches were tried out as memory boosters for non-smokers with a mild recession in their thinking ability, an early warning sign for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. It was discovered that the nicotine patches helped improve attention and even memory performance.[2]

Does Nicotine Improve Memory?

Does Nicotine Improve Memory?

For smokers and nicotine addicts, tobacco deprivation can weaken cognitive performance. On the other hand, subsequent administration of nicotine can reverse this deficit. In a research done on the effect of nicotine on brain activation during performance of a working memory task, a positron emission tomography was used to measure cognitive activation during a working memory task. Eleven smokers and eleven ex-smokers were included in the study, and there was the administration of placebo gum and 4-mg nicotine gum. For the ex-smokers who were given placebo gum, cognitive activation was predominant in the left hemisphere whereas, in smokers, the activation was in the right hemisphere. When nicotine was given, cognitive activation was reduced in smokers but increased in ex-smokers.[1]

Nicotine interferes with memory because it mimics acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter that stimulates nerve cell receptors in the brain linked to attention, learning, and memory skills. Therefore, continued abuse of nicotine inhibits the neurotransmitter from binding with the required receptors. So, when addicts quit smoking, they find it hard to remember new things due to the interference with the linkage between acetylcholine and its receptors. Nevertheless, over time, the brain rebounds and memory become restored. This phenomenon is not the same for individuals with mild memory loss due to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, and the effect nicotine has on memory. For such individuals, the receptors are usually damaged, so, memory restoration is not likely. As much as nicotine may improve memory for patients with signs of early memory loss, it doesn’t help boost global functioning.[2]

Does Nicotine Have A Calming Effect?

Nicotine is both a stimulant and a sedative. The calming neurological effects of nicotine are evident in non-smokers more so during anger provocation. It has been suggested that nicotine may alter the activity of brain areas, which are involved with inhibition of negative emotions e.g. anger. In other words, individuals of an angry disposition are more likely to experience a calming effect from nicotine, but then again, they are also at a higher risk for nicotine addiction.[3]

Although believed to have a calming effect and seems to help reduce feelings of anger, frustration, and anxiety, you should think twice before smoking a cigar to calm down. The truth of the matter is that smoking increases the level of stress in your body by increasing your blood pressure, and heart rate, and also results in constricted blood vessels and decreased oxygen in your brain and body. What happens is that once nicotine gets into your brain, it stimulates the release of dopamine which gives off a good feel. However, this feeling is short-lived and in a few hours, the dopamine levels decrease making you feel worse than before.[4] Needless say, teenagers who smoke at least a pack of cigarettes a day are likely to develop panic disorders or repetitive panic episodes in their early adulthood compared to teens who do not smoke.[5]


Nicotine patches have been found to be beneficial for patients with mild memory loss as an early sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. But for individuals who have a nicotine addiction, the same cannot be said. This is because nicotine interferes with the binding process of acetylcholine neurotransmitter with its receptors thus interfering with memory performance. As for nicotine having a calming effect, it is only an ideology brought about by the release of the primary rewarding chemical; dopamine. Furthermore, nicotine is a mood-altering drug, and its effects are temporary and short-lived.


Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 10, 2019

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