Nicotine, the addictive substance that’s naturally sourced from the tobacco plant, may have gotten more of a bad rap than it deserved over the last few decades. At least, that’s what a new study currently being performed by the Roper St. Francis Research and Innovation Center in South Carolina suggests. According to this potentially game-changing study, nicotine use can actually benefit mental activity, providing long-term positive effects on things like memory, attention and other cognitive functions.
This enlightening study is coming at a time when vaping is at an all-time high, meaning that its findings can shed more light on the unique way in which vaping affects our bodies. Needless to say, pro-vaping experts are hoping that this study can benefit the industry by improving public opinion regarding nicotine.
Can Nicotine Actually Benefit Your Brain?
The MIND study consists of 29 different national research centers that are each actively seeking participants to consume tobacco over a two-year period in order for researchers to determine its potentially positive effects on mental activity. The study, led by a research center in South Carolina, aims to demonstrate how nicotine use can improve cognitive function in patients who suffer from degenerative brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
This study is partially inspired by a 2004 clinical study demonstrating that adult patients with ADHD and schizophrenia found smoking to calm symptoms such as excessive mental activity, lack of focus and poor memory. It found that patients with these conditions who smoked most heavily tended to be doing so to self-medicate their exceptionally debilitating symptoms.
How the Study Works
Researchers behind the MIND study will be administrating nicotine to participants by way of the nicotine patch. Intended to be used as a smoking cessation tool, the nicotine patch is applied to the body and provides a consistent amount of nicotine throughout the day. Usually available in a variety of nicotine strengths, it’s meant to be left on for no more than one day at a time.
The study will be giving participants both nicotine patches and placebo patches over the course of two years. During this time, their cognitive function will be regularly tested, allowing the researchers to examine the ways in which nicotine impacts brain activity.
Mild Cognitive Impairment
The MIND study aims to demonstrate that controlled nicotine administration can be utilized as a form of clinical medication in order to maintain healthy brain activity among adults. Its primary focus is nicotine’s effects on a condition called mild cognitive impairment, better known as MCI.
MCI is considered the beginning state of dementia. It’s the stage of cognitive decline that takes place between the stage at which cognitive function slows down as the natural result of aging, and the time during which clinical dementia begins to take effect in the patient’s brain. Common signs of MCI include memory loss, loss of language and problems with making decisions. Many of these signs we associate with aging, making MCI rather difficult to diagnose. Therefore, MCI can be a challenge to treat because its symptoms are typically brushed off as the result of a person reaching their elderly stage.
To make matters more complicated, MCI can be difficult to diagnose because the patient typically doesn’t realize that they are entering a stage of cognitive decline. The process is extremely gradual, and the patient often doesn’t notice that it’s happening. Therefore, it’s usually the responsibility of the people in the patient’s life to spot the changes in behavior.
How Nicotine Affects the Body
It’s believed that nicotine’s potentially positive effects on brain activity have to do with the fact that nicotine is a mild stimulant that engages the nervous system. When the nervous system is engaged, our minds become more alert in order to accomplish important tasks. Our heart rate increases, circulation increases throughout the body and physical strength improves. On a cognitive level, our ability to concentrate increases, our memory becomes sharper and our ability to make important decisions and think clearly improves as well.
The researchers who are performing the MIND study believe that nicotine stimulates specific parts of the brain that are responsible for cognitive function. These are the same parts of the brain that stop regenerating neurons once a person reaches a certain age. For patients with Alzheimer’s, brain cells in these portions of the brain die out at a fairly fast rate, causing the person to go into cognitive decline.
Goal of the Study
The researchers’ primary goal of this study is to promote the development of a nicotine-based medication for patients with MCI that would, hopefully, be approved by the FDA. Currently, the FDA’s stance regarding nicotine is largely intertwined with their stances on tobacco and vaping products. The researchers seek to isolate the unique effects of nicotine so that this natural stimulant can be used on its own to improve cognitive function in a clinical environment.
They also wish to demonstrate that nicotine can slow down the rate at which Alzheimer’s takes effect in patients with MCI while alleviating the symptoms that can make it difficult to live a full and active life.
But, before all of that can occur, the researchers must first receive the proper amount of funding, which they anticipate will be a hurdle due to nicotine’s close relationship with tobacco products. They also hope that they can find the proper number of participants as nicotine is, of course, a fairly controversial chemical to consume. It’s not outrageous to assume that many people will avoid the study due to nicotine’s addictive nature.
Still, if the study delivers the results that the researchers anticipate, it has the potential to dramatically change the way in which we view nicotine. It may also have an impact on the vaping industry as nicotine is still highly stigmatized among the general public. Vaping is seeing enormous popularity by providing users with nicotine while allowing them to avoid the many ingredients that are found in tobacco cigarettes.
What This Study Could Mean…
If the MIND study is successful, our culture’s attitude toward nicotine could change enormously while the FDA could provide MCI patients with a nicotine-based drug that could provide enormous relief.