Nicotine is often portrayed as the “bad guy”. After all, nicotine is the reason people become addicted to cigarettes although additives in tobacco smoke and vaping products are thought to enhance nicotine’s addictive potential.
Interestingly, however, new research indicates the efficacy of nicotine in treating neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's Disease, cognitive impairments, Alzheimer's Disease, ADHD, and more.
Nicotine is even being cited as a potential cognitive enhancer, helping improve focus and concentration. Experts also indicate that individuals may already be using nicotine patches to help improve their memory and recall functions. So, what's the deal? Is nicotine really the next new smart drug? `
What is nicotine?
Nicotine is a strong alkaloid usually derived from tobacco (although synthetic versions are available). In its purest form, it comes in a clear liquid and has a very distinct odor. When exposed to air, it turns brown. It is a water-soluble amine consisting of pyridine and pyrrolidine rings.
Absorption of nicotine occurs through the oral mucosa, the skin, the lungs, and the gut. Once absorbed, the liver is responsible for metabolizing it. From there, nicotine acts on the body in various ways, both good and bad.
Why cigarettes are not a good idea
Undeniably, smoking cigarettes has more downsides than upsides. According to the CDC, smoking cigarettes causes heart disease, cancer, lung diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and diabetes. In fact, over 16 million Americans are living with a disease or condition caused by cigarette smoke. Even secondhand smoke has negative health effects. A typical cigarette has between 6mg to 28mg of nicotine each.
Interestingly, researchers have reported high smoking rates in very specific groups of people, including those who have bipolar disorder, depression, ADHD, and other psychiatric disorders with various cognitive impairments. Experts theorize that these individuals choose smoking cigarettes as a way to deal with the cognitive impairments that come with their condition or disorder. However, while smoking may be the most accessible way to access nicotine, there are healthier and better ways to receive nicotine's potential benefits.
The benefits of nicotine
Contrary to popular belief, nicotine actually has benefits that are fairly well documented. It's known to increase attention, improve concentration, enhance physical performance, prevent fatigue, and improve mood.
A 1998 pilot study confirmed the noticeable effects of nicotine on the brain in Alzheimer’s patients. After six patients received intravenous nicotine, cognitive tests revealed decreased memory impairment, as well as fewer mood-related disturbances, such as anxiety and depression.
In one study outlined in a 2018 review, researchers discovered that nicotine positively impacted alerting attention and orienting attention. Experts have also suggested that nicotine may provide faster and more precise motor movements, help with short-term memory recall, and help suppress appetite, helping some individuals maintain or find a healthy weight. A lot of studies use cigarette smokers to study nicotine. In contrast, the scientific and biohacking communities could benefit from more research based solely on nicotine, such as in patches or gum, as well as researching micro-dosing and the effects of smaller amounts of nicotine on the body and brain.
A brief history of nicotine
Nicotine derived from the tobacco plant has been used as a medical remedy by indigenous groups for thousands of years. Historians suggest that Christopher Columbus discovered tobacco on his travels and brought it home to Europe from the Americas.
Tobacco smoking became popularized throughout the 1600s, with many individuals smoking it in pipes or cigars. But it wasn't until the 1880s that cigarette smoking truly exploded across the globe, when the first mass-producing paper cigarette machine was created and patented. Inevitably, this invention made cigarettes more accessible.
The 19th century quickly saw the harmful effects of nicotine, which eventually led lawmakers to pass various laws and regulations regarding the consumption and sale of cigarettes. In 1964, smoking was attributed to rising rates of lung cancer and heart disease. The FDA also stated in 1994 that nicotine was a drug that could cause dependency and addiction.
The 21st century has seen a bigger crackdown on cigarettes and smoking. Many countries have banned smoking inside public venues and instituted strict rules regarding where smoking is allowed and what health warnings cigarette packaging have to display.
Nicotine had been demonized. Yet, many failed to consider the high amount of nicotine in cigarettes likely contributing to these issues plus additional additives in tobacco smoke. No one questioned the amounts of this “drug” and whether smaller doses consumed in more healthy ways could positively affect the brain and the body.
Is Nicotine addicting?
Nicotine is one of 5,000 or more chemicals found in cigarette smoke. As mentioned above, there is significant evidence that the additives in cigarettes (and in vaping products) enhance nicotine’s addictive potential.
And similar to caffeine, nicotine dosage also matters along with the method of ingestion.
Nicotine in small doses and without toxins and carcinogens can offer up new ways to biohack the body and brain. For instance, taking nicotine in a lozenge or in a small mouth-spray provides various benefits, while reducing any potential downsides.
Like any drug, nicotine deserves some respect. However, high amounts of nicotine can be poisonous and can even kill a child or a pet.
Experts recommend consuming nicotine in 1-2 mg doses. It should not be used regularly, but occasionally, on an as-needed basis. Nicotine that is smoked or vaped has the most addictive potential due to the fast acting nature of these delivery methods. Patches, lozenges, troches, sprays, and gums are slower acting and have less addictive potential.
Nicotine and PGC-1 Alpha
Nicotine affects peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator 1-alpha (PGC-1 Alpha), the master regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis. Nicotine actually helps grow new mitochondria. By decreasing PGC-1 Alpha, it enables the same anti-aging mechanism activated during exercise and it is one of the reasons why people gain weight when they quit smoking.
PGC-1 Alpha is a crucial factor in mitochondrial health. It helps protect you from neurodegenerative diseases, insulin resistance, and inflammation. It also contributes to mitochondrial function and production.
Nicotine and the brain
Harvard Health suggests that using nicotine patches may help improve various aspects of mental functioning. In fact, some studies have shown that using a nicotine patch improves attention and decision-making abilities in those with cognitive impairments.
Let's skip back to performance.
The way nicotine acts on the brain allows you to potentially function better, as long as it's taken in small doses (and yes, we will keep emphasizing this). You may be able to focus on key tasks longer, make better decisions, and recall important information. These functions matter, especially when you're trying to build a business or accomplish a specific goal.
Nicotine and COVID
What about nicotine and COVID? Smoking definitely doesn't help those who contract COVID. In fact, it may create a more serious health situation because the lungs and other systems are already under strain. But what about nicotine alone?
Interestingly, a couple of new studies out of France concluded that smokers may be less likely to contract COVID due to nicotine's binding mechanism that stops COVID from attaching to cells and entering the body. In fact, studies have shown a disproportionate amount of people who contract COVID aren't smokers, which was an unexpected finding.
This means that small doses of nicotine may have protective effects against COVID, possibly preventing a person from getting it. Yet, let's be clear here: A smoker who contracts COVID is more likely to have serious symptoms than a person who does not smoke.
The best ways to get nicotine
How can you get nicotine in small doses?
(NOTE: Smoking cigarettes or vaping is not it!)
Below are three different (and more healthy) ways you can obtain nicotine. Remember: It is recommended to consume nicotine only occasionally, and again, in small doses.
When tobacco and nicotine are consumed in tea, they are considered a low health risk because of the way they enter the body. In fact, popular black and green teas may even contain a natural amount of nicotine at 0.7 mcg.
Your digestive tract breaks down the nicotine in tea, which may take hours to do. This means nicotine slowly enters and is metabolized in your body. Nicotine in cigarettes enters the brain almost instantly.
In tea form, nicotine is found in such low amounts that addiction is highly unlikely, if not impossible.
Blue Cannatine by Troscriptions
Blue cannatine is a nootropic combination that contains – you guessed it – nicotine! It was formulated by Dr. Ted Achacoso, one of the smartest people on the planet, as a buccal troche (pronounced Troh-key) that slowly dissolves in your mouth between your cheek and gums.
Blue Cannatine enhances mental performance, alertness, clarity, athletic performance, focus, and deepens meditations. It contains only 1mg of non-tobacco derived (and pharmaceutical grade) nicotine combined with methylene blue, caffeine, and cbd. I have found this to be more pleasant than any other form of nicotine. Besides turning your tongue blue for a good conversation ice breaker, methylene blue is also a powerful brain antioxidant.
Nicotine spray may be a more accessible option for some. Each spray contains 0.5 mg of nicotine, and it's FDA approved. However, before buying any product, it's important to do your own research and understand what goes into the item you intend to purchase and consume.
Still Not Sure About Nicotine?
For any biohacker, it may pay to try a small amount of nicotine and record how it makes you feel and how it affects your performance. It is your responsibility to ensure that nicotine is an appropriate choice for you (on occasion) by doing your own research and by understanding the potential risks of high doses, such as those found in cigarettes.
INGRID DE LA O TUSOL Wellness Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer
Ingrid De La O is a wellness expert living in Los Angeles. She’s been featured in NYT best selling books, #1 iTunes podcasts, and been written about in magazines such as Vogue, The Guardian, Malibu Magazine and more. Born and raised in Mexico City, she's the co-founder and health formulator at TUSOL Wellness. She's passionate in everything biohacking and loves to spend time learning everything there is to know about your cells. Ingrid has spent years studying functional nutrition and is a superfood expert. She formulated the TUSOL smoothie collection that cured both her Crohn’s Disease and postpartum depression within a period of four months