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Medicine Science

Nicotine Improves Brain Function In Schizophrenics 297

Posted by kdawson
from the hallucinations-are-a-drag dept.
An anonymous reader suggests a Cosmos Magazine note that nicotine has been shown to enhance attention and memory in schizophrenics. Research is now aimed at developing new treatments that could relieve symptoms and prevent smoking-related deaths. "A strong link between schizophrenia and smoking — with over three times as many schizophrenics smoking (70 to 90%) as the population at large — prompted scientists to investigate the link. Researchers led by Ruth Barr, a psychiatrist at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, set out to find if the nicotine in cigarettes was helping patients to overcome their difficulties with cognitive function, such as planning and memory in social and work settings."
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Nicotine Improves Brain Function In Schizophrenics

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  • Typical (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 07, 2009 @08:06AM (#28985069)

    Nicotine itself is unlikely to make an effective treatment, because of its side effects and addictive potential, but drugs known as nicotinic agonists, which target nicotine receptors in the brain, are front runners in the challenge to find an effective replacement.

    Haha. So rather than use a cheap natural solution it's better to get the expensive patented synthetic stuff. Riiiiiight... Now I see.

  • by QCompson (675963) on Friday August 07, 2009 @08:06AM (#28985071)

    Would you want to see what happens when I try to quit?

    You'd live longer?

  • Re:So (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Desler (1608317) on Friday August 07, 2009 @08:21AM (#28985207)
    Considering that the researcher says that they shouldn't be smoking due to the toxins and instead should be using a nicotine patch or nasal spray in order to stimulate the receptors, I'm going to have to say no.

    "Now, the rationale is to provide a more strategic treatment in the form of a skin patch or nasal spray to avoid the toxins in cigarette smoke. This is the way to go," he said.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday August 07, 2009 @08:32AM (#28985283) Journal
    "And addictive potential."

    I find this part curious. Yes, nicotine is crazy addictive, well up there with the zestiest of the drugs that the state doesn't approve of. However, in this case, does it matter?

    Schizophrenia is, pending significant advances not yet made, incurable. People unlucky enough to develop it will be affected for their entire lives. If a given drug is useful, they aren't going to stop taking it, so being addicted seems like an irrelevant inconvenience. Obviously, cigarettes are a lousy delivery medium because of their numerous other unpleasant effects; but the addictiveness seems unimportant.
  • Cheap? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Moraelin (679338) on Friday August 07, 2009 @08:49AM (#28985421) Journal

    1. I don't know where you live, but around here with all the taxes the cigarettes are probably the most expensive imaginable way to get your nicotine fix.

    If you're smoking R1, as an extreme example, you're paying 4.4 euro for 1.7mg nicotine total. Or about 2.6 euro per milligram. For other brands of cigarettes, ok, you can get up to 10 times cheaper per mg, but it's still bloody expensive.

    I'd think that the expensive patented stuff could gouge you like the medieval tax collectors -- or like HP for ink as a modern day equivalent -- and still be a lot cheaper.

    2. You obviously skipped past half the sentence you answer to. The problem with just using the (not so) cheap natural stuff is:

    A) it's extremely addictive stuff. And actually the real problem with that isn't the obvious "OMG, it's getting people addicted." It's that, like all physiological addictions:

    - you're building resistance to it

    - it's moving the baseline state to worse

    So soon you'll either need more and more nicotine to actually fix that schizophrenia, or you'll need your regular fixes just to keep yourself at the point where you'd be if you never started with it in the first place. And you'll actually be worse off when you can't get your fix.

    B) it creates a bunch of other problems. E.g., that it's a vasoconstrictor (which is actually the root of more smoking-related health problems than the smoke in the lungs), or that it inhibits osteoblasts (so if you treat someone post-menopause generously enough with it, they'll get fractures), etc.

    C) nicotine is a poison. It's only safe to use because there's very little in a cigarette, and most of it burns. You're actually getting very little of it in your system. But there just isn't that much margin between that and when things start to get uglier. So especially in view of problem A, you don't want a treatment which will over time escalate dangerously close to the toxic dosage to do anything.

  • Re:Cheap? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:16AM (#28985697)

    - you're building resistance to it

    - it's moving the baseline state to worse

    So soon you'll either need more and more nicotine to actually fix that schizophrenia, or you'll need your regular fixes just to keep yourself at the point where you'd be if you never started with it in the first place.

    I take it you're opposed to supplying opioids to people with debilitating chronic pain, then?

    That's also quite a set of assumptions you're making. Unless you know what mechanism in a schizophrenic's brain responds to nicotine, there's simply no way to know whether sensitization to it occurs in that context. Yes, schizophrenics do get addicted, and in my experience tend to ramp up their cigarette intakes far, far higher than people in the general population ever do. But that might just mean they're addicted over and above whatever ameliorative effects nicotine provides; they may need increasing doses to keep nicotine craving away, but they may not to maintain a pharmacologically useful dose.

    Don't conflate the mechanics of addiction with the mechanics of medicinal usefulness.

  • Re:Interesting (Score:2, Insightful)

    by martas (1439879) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:29AM (#28985799)
    i'd say it's more likely that once you stopped smoking, your doctors stopped assuming that all of your problems are caused by cigarettes.
  • Re:Cheap? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sjames (1099) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:42AM (#28985931) Homepage

    You obviously haven't done any research on the drugs currently used to treat schizophrenia!

    1. I don't know where you live, but around here with all the taxes the cigarettes are probably the most expensive imaginable way to get your nicotine fix.

    Shouldn't socialized medicine cover that?

    A) it's extremely addictive stuff. And actually the real problem with that isn't the obvious "OMG, it's getting people addicted." It's that, like all physiological addictions: - you're building resistance to it - it's moving the baseline state to worse

    That is true of the current treatments as well. All have tolerance effects.

    B) it creates a bunch of other problems. E.g., that it's a vasoconstrictor (which is actually the root of more smoking-related health problems than the smoke in the lungs), or that it inhibits osteoblasts (so if you treat someone post-menopause generously enough with it, they'll get fractures), etc.

    Meanwhile, the anti-psychotics are extremely hard on the liver. With chronic use they often cause irreversible tardive dyskinesia or worse, akathisia (which makes sitting still literally unbearable). The other unpleasant side effects such as sedation, slowness of thought, anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure), etc are what drive so many patients to discontinue their meds (dangerous without medical supervision BTW) in spite of the near certainty that they will relapse if they do.

    The harmful effects of nicotine are benign in comparison even if you smoke it rather than using a patch or pill.

    C) nicotine is a poison.

    Literally ALL drugs are poisons. The only thing that makes a poison a drug is that it's effect may be medically useful and that it's dose can be controlled adequately in a medical setting such that the positive effects will outweigh the negative.

    Take too much Tylenol (for example) and you will die the same way as if you ate poisonous mushrooms. Take too much of an anti-psychotic and you will die. Take too much nicotine and you will die.

  • by sjames (1099) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:46AM (#28985983) Homepage

    Meanwhile, prescriptions for anti-depressants have skyrocketed....

  • Re:Not really news (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sjames (1099) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:50AM (#28986045) Homepage

    It's too bad that those safer methods all end up more expensive, banned, or prescription only (and so MUCH more expensive).

    If politicians ACTUALLY wanted people to quit smoking then nicotine gum and patches would be cheaper and easier to get than cigarettes.

  • by sjames (1099) on Friday August 07, 2009 @10:26AM (#28986439) Homepage

    It is amusing when the boogyman turns out to have an upside, isn't it?

    While I'm sure that in a clinical setting, the route of administration would be pills, patch, gum, or nasal spray the anti-smoking crowd STILL can't stand the thought that nicotine might enhance cognition and memory or have fewer and milder side-effects than the drugs already being used.

    The pharmaceutical companies are fully on the bandwagon with them, m,ostly because they can't patent nicotine.

    Together they cry out that surely it will turn out that only some patented expensive drug that works just like nicotine (except it doesn't strangle puppies) will be the answer. It can't possibly be Nicorette or the patch.

  • by sjames (1099) on Friday August 07, 2009 @10:32AM (#28986523) Homepage

    The same strange doublethink happens with opoid painkillers for people in chronic pain. They pop liver damaging analgesics like dope fiends because they experience unbearable pain if they stop, but they can't have cheap opiates in appropriate doses because they might pop them like a dope fiend and be unable to stop.

  • Re:Cheap? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by value_added (719364) on Friday August 07, 2009 @10:41AM (#28986653)

    I don't know where you live, but around here with all the taxes the cigarettes are probably the most expensive imaginable way to get your nicotine fix.

    Probably true if nicotine is what you're after. Seems to me that there's more to smoking than just nicotine just as there's more to brewing a fresh cup of great coffee and sitting down to drink it hot than what's offered in a caffeine pill. On any number of different levels.

    I'm impressed at the advances of science in recent years, but I'm old enough to know that an advance here or there combined with a recommendation du jour doesn't necessarily mean much more than saying "Hey, we figured this much out!" You take what's complex and assert it's simple, then talk about poison without recognising that most anything in sufficient quantities can be lethal. And that what's called poison in small enough doses is often given the term "medicine" and sold by prescription.

    Quite frankly, I find the reductio ad absurdum approach toward food and other substances an unfortunate trend. We have people spending their lives standing in aisles reading labels, believing that meat and fish are nothing more than protein, taking an iron pill is the equivalent of eating green leafy vegetables, drinking red wine equivalent of an intake of retrovil and alcohol, and the chocolate is just a bunch of calories.

    Sorry, but I'm going to insist on going the less efficient and more expensive route. I'll buy my fruits and vegetables based on looks, taste and freshness, and I'll consume meat because my body tells me it's yummy and it's good for me. If I read a label, it'll be on the bottle of wine I'm drinking. When done, I'll drink my coffee and smoke a cigarette because I enjoy both of them (and their effects) too much to care what the latest scientific studies purport to tell me they do or don't do.

  • by Vahokif (1292866) on Friday August 07, 2009 @10:50AM (#28986761)
    Bill Hicks is rolling in his fucking grave.
  • by nahdude812 (88157) * on Friday August 07, 2009 @11:21AM (#28987119) Homepage

    I'm not sure I follow the logic. God also designed rocks, and they can inhibit brain function when applied to the brain in certain ways also. Is the fact that humans aren't indestructible proof that God doesn't exist?

  • by mollog (841386) on Friday August 07, 2009 @02:20PM (#28989427)
    Addictive behaviour and schizophrenia go together.

    First of all, you don't know what you're talking about. The nicotine and caffeine help alleviate the symptoms of schizophrenia. Schizophrenics have to self-medicate to feel normal. It's about a dopamine deficit and brain receptors, idiot.

    The fact that schizophrenics have to self-medicate is a testament to our health system; it would rather treat conditions than cure illness. The best medication for schizophrenics on the market today is Geodon. Side-effects? Weight gain and diabetes. As if their lives weren't bad enough.
  • Re:Cheap? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shiftless (410350) on Friday August 07, 2009 @03:32PM (#28990415) Homepage

    Smoke too much marijuana and you will... die of lung cancer just like you would smoking anything.

    Yeah, that's what Dr. Donald Tashkin of the University of California was sure of too when he started studying marijuana 30 years ago. Then after conducting the largest study of its kind, involving more than 2,200 cancer patients, his results showed that there was no association at all [washingtonpost.com] between marijuana smoking and an increased risk of cancer. None at all, even amongst the heaviest smokers. Actually, their findings showed that smoking marijuana seemed to actually *reduce* the risk of cancer.

    THC may be medicine - but strangely enough, it doesn't seem to have much therapeutic effect unless it's taken with the proper rituals, the one they use in drug culture (in other words, smoking it).

    The Institute of Medicine, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, American Society of Addiction Medicine, AIDS Action Council, British Medical Association, California Academy of Family Physicians, California Legislative Council for Older Americans, California Medical Association, California Nurses Association, California Pharmacists Association, California Society of Addiction Medicine, Colorado Nurses Association, Kaiser Permanente, Lymphoma Foundation of America, Multiple Sclerosis California Action Network, National Association of People with AIDS, National Nurses Society on Addictions, New Mexico Nurses Association, New York State Nurses Association, New England Journal of Medicine, Australian Commonwealth Department of Human Services and Health, Florida Medical Association, and Virginia Nurses Association would all disagree with your statement.

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