Could Nicotine Be The Next Smart Drug?

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When many people hear the word nicotine, their first thought is of cigarettes and cancer. However, nicotine is not responsible for cancer-inducing effects of cigarettes.

Now many people are using nicotine as a smart drug.

Could it be that what we’ve assumed about nicotine may not be true? Is nicotine harmful to humans or could it be used as a beneficial nootropic or ‘smart drug’ similar to caffeine?

This article will explore some of the misconceptions about nicotine and some of the potential benefits this mysterious drug may have to offer.

So what is nicotine exactly?

It is a chemical found in a wide variety of plants and vegetables including tobacco, potatoes, and tomatoes. Nicotine is used by these plants to ward off predators and prevent the plants from being eaten. Nicotine is also found in tobacco leaves. It is one of 4,000 chemical compounds found in cigarette smoke and one of the four primary ingredients in the e-liquid that is used by vaporizers and e-cigarettes.


A smart drug, or nootropic, is any substance that is used to enhance memory or improve cognitive functions such as focus, attention span, and creative decision-making. They are not intended to boost IQ or make someone smarter, but rather to increase the amount of and creation of various neurotransmitters.  


The way nicotine affects the body is unique in comparison to many other drugs. It is both a stimulant and a relaxant. To put it in the words of Dr. Neil Grunberg, “It’s the only drug we know of that brings you up when you’re down and down when you’re up.”[1] How can this be?

When you ingest nicotine, the liver is signaled to release glucose and the adrenal medulla releases adrenaline. This initial release causes many people to feel a sensation of sharpness, calmness, and alertness thanks to the combination of adrenaline and glucose.

After this initial release in the liver and adrenal medulla, nicotine travels to the brain and helps to initiate the release of some different chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine. These chemicals act on the “reward center” of the brain causing pleasant feelings for the user. Nicotine also extends the effects of dopamine, making users more sensitive to rewarding behaviors.

Ever wonder why smokers tend to smoke a cigarette both when they’re stressed out and when they need a burst of energy? It is because of nicotine’s double acting stimulant and relaxant properties. Called “the most interesting drug in the world” by Dr. Neil Grunberg, the fascinating aspects of nicotine don’t stop there.

Although biohackers are still figuring out the best way to use nicotine as a smart drug there is promising research.


Even though nicotine may have a poorly spun reputation due to its association with cigarettes, some scientific studies indicate that a host of benefits come with consuming nicotine separately from cigarettes.


A study conducted by the Duke University Medical Center discovered that nicotine could improve concentration and mood in people with ADHD.[2] The participants were given a patch that delivered nicotine into their bodies.  The participants were then given tests to measure both focus and concentration.  In both cases, an overall improvement was shown with few side effects.  


If nicotine can help those with ADHD with focus, could it help you too? Some people have begun to use nicotine as a nootropic. It’s not just college students and life hackers that have noticed the powerful effects of nicotine.

In an article from Scientific American, Jessica Rusted a professor of experimental psychology at Sussex University said: “To my knowledge, nicotine is the most reliable cognitive enhancer that we currently have, bizarrely.”  She went on to say, “The cognitive-enhancing effects of nicotine in an average population are more robust than you get with any other agent.”[3]

As per a study led by Oregon Health Sciences University, nicotine can enhance alertness as well. In the study, the subjects’ both self-appraised alertness and had their sharpness measured by an EEG.  The study found that after being given nicotine, the alertness of the non-smokers was enhanced.[4]

Nicotine also has the potential to improve memory. A Study done by Thames Valley University in England discovered that when non-smokers chewed nicotine gum, their short-memory significantly improved. [5]

The combined influence of nicotine and caffeine has aided the production 99% of the great works of art and literature over the past 200 years.



Biohacking with Nicotine

There are quite a few biohackers who have been using nicotine as a potent means of enhancing their energy and productivity. Jonathan Roseland of BlueBrainBoost uses a Nicotine USP solution that is placed under the tongue.

I found that if I used it in the early evening as I was starting to lose interest in slaving away on the computer it would give me an extra 60-90 minutes of focused attention, get me back into my productive 10 AM headspace.”

-Jonathan Roseland[6]

We emailed Jonathan asking a few questions regarding using nicotine as a smart drug. Asked if he would recommend nicotine as a nootropic for enhanced cognitive performance as long as it was used consciously within limits, his answer was this: “Yeah, Nicotine is a quiet consistent cognitive performance enhancer. The best work of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Ayn Rand and Mark Twain is a product of excess not moderation.” When asked about the optimum range for nicotine consumption for increased performance, Dr. Roseland also stated, “Since Nicotine is so addictive and the tolerance curve is so steep the optimum range is very little. I really encourage people to start with a low dose and try to keep it low.”


Dan Hurley, the author of “Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power” and award-winning science journalist, used a nicotine patch in his explorations into improving his intelligence. In an interview with Dave Asprey, he stated “I just took the 7mg [nicotine] patch, I felt absolutely nothing. I couldn’t tell that I had it on. It was not like coffee; it was like nothing. And yet, at the end of the day, when I was getting undressed, and I thought, ‘Oh I wore my patch today’ and I thought ‘Oh wow, I had a productive day.’”[7]

Dave Asprey, renowned biohacker, and CEO of Bulletproof has mentioned in numerous interviews that he uses nicotine on an occasional basis to increase cognitive performance and improve oxygen flow to the brain. In a Q&A he stated the following:

“In very low doses, I find it; it’s a performance enhancing drug, and it deserves a place in your stack if it works for you. There is no moral judgment about nicotine. It is not tobacco. It is not burning; it is not a lung cancer issue. This is actually about cognitive function and making your brain work better and happy and causing no harm, and I believe nicotine can be used effectively that way, it can also kill you so pay attention.”[8]


Could nicotine play a role in reducing and improving the symptoms that Alzheimer’s patients suffer from on a daily basis? New research indicates this may be the case.

Scientists at Georgetown University have discovered that nicotine has the potential to reverse the effects of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI often leads to the full onset of Alzheimer’s disease.[9]

The study done by Georgetown showed that six months of nicotine patch treatment resulted in patients with MCI regaining up to 46 percent of their regular performance on various memory tests while a placebo group over the same six-month period showed a 26 percent decline in performance.

“We may have some early evidence that could suggest nicotine can change the course of MCI, and possibly slow progression to Alzheimer’s disease,” said Ken Kellar, a professor of pharmacology and member of the Georgetown team that conducted the study.

The lab at Georgetown has been investigating the effects of nicotine on Alzheimer’s disease since the mid-1980’s. They have discovered that in the autopsied brains of Alzheimer’s patients, there was a massive loss of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. Nicotine has been shown to increase these receptors and holds the potential to offer help to thousands of people that suffer from Alzheimer’s.


One of the first times anyone recognized nicotine as having potential benefits came in a study conducted by Harold Kan in 1966 at the National Institutes of Health. By examining health insurance records from over 200,000 veterans that had served in the United States military between 1917 and 1940, he noticed the typical mortality rates that exist between smokers and nonsmokers. Cigarette smokers were more likely to die of a multitude of different cancers and were dying of emphysema in increasing numbers as well. One statistic did jump off the page, though, cigarette smokers were much less likely to die of Parkinson’s disease.

What could cause this reduction? Nicotine works on the brain by increasing the amount of dopamine present. Dopamine acts on the brain in a way that helps to modulate attention, increase reward-seeking behavior, and control movement. This movement control effect is the main reason that nicotine can have an impact on people suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Maryka Quik, a director of the Neurodegenerative Diseases Program at SRI International, has published over three-dozen studies examining the ways in which nicotine impacts the mammalian brain. After noticing the effects that nicotine had on dopamine levels in the brain, she conducted a study on monkeys that were suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. In a paper published in the 2007 Annals of Neurology journal, she discovered that over an eight-week period, monkeys that were ingesting nicotine showed significant reductions in the tremors and tics that are associated with Parkinson’s.

Since this study, the Michael J. Fox Foundation has begun testing the effects of nicotine on human subjects with Parkinson’s Disease. Data indicates that current smokers are up to 60 percent less likely than nonsmokers to develop Parkinson’s Disease. The Foundation is currently in the process of completing a study titled NIC-PD that is examining the potential for nicotine patches to slow down the progression of Parkinson’s Disease. The Foundation estimates that the study will be completed in December of 2016.[10] We will keep you updated with the results as they become available.  


As a result of aggressive anti-smoking campaigns that have crowded the media over the past 40 years, a huge number of people associate nicotine with cigarettes. A survey taken by the Royal Society for Public Health(RSPH) in England found that 90% of residents in the UK believe that nicotine itself is the primary harmful substance within cigarettes. This could far from the truth. The primary cancer-causing agents in cigarettes are the additional chemicals and tar that are prevalent in the rolled cigarette. 

The RSPH encouraged the idea that nicotine is not that far off from caffeine regarding its effects and potential dangers. If nicotine on its own can have similar effects to caffeine, could we begin to see nicotine being used in offices throughout the world in a similar way to coffee?


As a chemical that has the potential to improve memory, concentration, and treat ADHD, it would come as no surprise to see nicotine take hold in offices and libraries throughout the world. If the stigma that nicotine is the main cancer-causing agent in cigarettes reverses, and people can begin to look at it as a substance similar to caffeine, the world of nicotine may undergo a shift.

This research has us wondering about the initial question. Could nicotine be the next smart drug?

Have you used nicotine as a nootropic? Do you take nicotine whenever you’re working on a big project? Tell us about you experience below in the comments. We’d love to hear how nicotine has worked for you.


Blog Mentions:

– Limitless Mindset –
– Dan Hurley –
– Bulletproof –

Watch this great podcast with Dr. Neil Grunberg who’s called nicotine “The Most Interesting Drug in the World.”


Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power,” by Dan Hurley. This book gives a more detailed look at Hurley’s attempts to use nicotine as a nootropic.













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