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Medicine Science

Nicotine Improves Brain Function In Schizophrenics 297

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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  • by Fished ( 574624 ) <> on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:14AM (#28985127)
    Nicotine can also be a potent self-medication for other mental health issues. For example, nicotine (as a stimulant) is often used by those with ADHD to self-medicate.
  • by LabRat007 ( 765435 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:15AM (#28985149) Homepage
    Schizophrenics have been said to "self medicate" with nicotine for YEARS. When I started in the field in 1998 it was already a conclusion everyone was working under.

    Schizophrenia Bulletin 1998 24(2):189-202;

    A series of human and animal investigations has suggested that altered expression and function of the {alpha}7-nicotinic cholinergic receptor may be responsible for the auditory sensory gating deficit characterized in schizophrenia patients and their relatives as diminished suppression of an auditory-evoked response (P50) to repeated stimuli. This finding, in conjunction with evidence for familial transmission of this sensory gating deficit, suggests a pathogenic role of the gene for the {alpha}7-nicotinic receptor in schizophrenia. This article considers the possible effects of this dysfunction in a broader context. Not only is this dysfunction consistent with difficulties in sensory gating, but it might also pre dispose patients to problems with learning efficiency and accuracy. Such learning problems could underlie schizophrenia patients' delusional thinking, hallucinations, and social dysfunction. In addition, heavy smoking in many schizophrenia patients is consistent with the high concentration of nicotine necessary to activate the receptor and with the receptor's extremely rapid desensitization. Finally, the receptor's possible role in cell growth and differentiation should be considered in connection with developmental deficits and other cellular abnormalities in schizophrenia.
  • by blincoln ( 592401 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:16AM (#28985161) Homepage Journal

    I would have thought smoking would bring on mental problems in the first place rather than be a palliative.

    Nicotine improves brain function even in non-schizophrenics, because it binds to acetylcholine receptors []. Of course, the most common delivery methods have one or two negative side effects.

  • Old News (Score:5, Informative)

    by cffrost ( 885375 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:17AM (#28985171) Homepage
    Smoking Away Schizophrenia? [] Scientific American Mind, 2007-11-27.

    Scientific American also published an article in 2003 suggesting that a by-product of nicotine can slow the onset of Alzheimer's disease. [] It does not take a nicotine-addict to see that CNS stimulants can have beneficial effects on brain function.
  • by Desler ( 1608317 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:18AM (#28985177)
    Except the doctor never endorsed smoking. He even says in the article:

    "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.

    I know this is BadAnalogyGuy but that was just sloppy trolling at best.

  • Also Helps With... (Score:5, Informative)

    by ItMustBeEsoteric ( 732632 ) <ryangilbert@gmail . c om> on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:21AM (#28985209)
    Ulcerative colitis [] (warning, gross picture of internals). I've been a sufferer since I was in my early teens, and was in a state of active flare ups for nearly five years, even going to the hospital now and then. I've been on dozens of medications for it, from immunosuppressants to steroids to everything doctors could come up with.

    When I was 19, a doctor mentioned smoking, off the record. He didn't want to actively advise me to smoke, but I was 19 and in danger of needing my colon surgically removed already. I, like a good geek, read everything about it I could find. I hated my first pack of cigs, but by the time I was through it--nearly a week--my symptoms were subsiding. Since then, one flare up in six years that lasted for two weeks. Trade-offs, eh?
  • Not Surprising (Score:2, Informative)

    by Annwvyn ( 1611587 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:51AM (#28985453)
    Nicotine's affects on the mind and body have been known for quite some time, but that it can CLINICALLY help schizophrenics is a step forward for them (drugs tend to be testy with psych patients). Quite a few of our medicines come from plants, and nicotine in itself is not very harmful (I administer more dangerous drugs on the back of the ambulance). Just remember, it is the SMOKE AND ADDITIVES that cause the cancer and COPD... not the nicotine itself. Because it is tied to smoking nicotine has a bad stigma, but we have already refined it for medicinal purposes.
  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @10:27AM (#28985779) Journal

    This may not be true in this particular case, but I really love it when people go on and on about the dangers of smoking while they themselves live in smog filled cities.

    Unless you're living in Los Angeles, Mexico City or <insert city in China's industrial regions here> you're not getting anything like the amount of nastiness in primary cigarette smoke just by breathing the air.

  • by ItMustBeEsoteric ( 732632 ) <ryangilbert@gmail . c om> on Friday August 07, 2009 @10:27AM (#28985781)
    In reply to the question on smoking:

    At 19, I was stupid and didn't think of anything aside from smoking as a solution. After a few years and not being able to run like I used to, I started looking for another option. The gum made my mouth feel rotten, and something about the delivery mechanism of the patch (the steady delivery, perhaps?) didn't give me the "kick" I was, frankly, addicted to.

    Technology, though, is a hell of a thing. These days, I use a cigarette-sized atomizer. It delivers nicotine, water vapor, propelyne glycol, and optional flavoring on inhales. Nothing else--no burning, no other carcinogens. Charges by USB, one cartridge has 16mg nicotine and lasts 150 puffs, so it's trivial to determine dosage. I still call it "smoking" though it's not Sure, start up cost is high, but my health prefers as few carcinogens as possible. Also, it's less obnoxious to people around me. Anyone in the same boat should seriously look at them--handles the fixation as well as delivering nicotine.

    Have to admit, now and then I do enjoy a good cigar, though.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:3, Informative)

    by Fieryphoenix ( 1161565 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @10:35AM (#28985851)
    Initial research indicated that nicotine is not carcinogenic, but more recent studies are suggesting that may not be so. []
  • Re:Cheap? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 07, 2009 @11:48AM (#28986729)

    Correct me if I'm wrong, as IANAneuroscientist, (neuroscience is a recently acquired hobby)....

    If you want to have a drug which acts in the same way as an opiate, it will have to activate the opioid receptors (k-opioid receptors being the main ones for pain relief, IIRC) - and thus will act in the same way as these "addictive opioids". Yes, perhaps you can get it to be somewhat less addictive than some other opioid agonist by, say, selecting a molecule or compounding the medicine such that it has some agonism at the d-opioid (?) receptors to slow the growth of tolerance, or antagonizes the dopamine system, or has some activity on the adrenaline system, but it is still fundamentally an opiate.

    In that same light, if you have a drug which behaves in a manner identical to nicotine - activating all the same receptors - it will have the same addiction potential as nicotine, because there is no way for the body to differentiate it from nicotine.

    Now, I would be surprised if most of the benefit from nicotine in this use didn't come from some agonism at some specific receptor, and so the benefit could be duplicated without most of the "side effects", but I'm not familiar with the pharmacology of nicotine.
    Someone else under me suggested that, perhaps, this is primarily due to being an acetylcholine agonist.

  • by LabRat007 ( 765435 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @12:15PM (#28987065) Homepage

    I (as a schizophrenic) have never read or been told about if from physicians so if it is common knowledge maybe they do not recommend it for some reason.

    Anyone know a good link?


    Smoking is bad for a multitude of reasons. Additionally, nicotine interacts with some anti-psychotics (clozapine for instance) causing both the nicotine and clozapine to have attenuated effects. No Dr. would ever recommend smoking. I would only recommend it if you lived in world with no other medication options.

    Nicotinic interactions with antipsychotic drugs, models of schizophrenia and impacts on cognitive function

    Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA

    People with schizophrenia often have substantial cognitive impairments, which may be related to nicotinic receptor deficits, (α7 and α4Î2), documented in the brains of people with schizophrenia. The large majority of people with schizophrenia smoke cigarettes. Thus, nicotinic interactions with antipsychotic drugs are widespread. Complementary co-therapies of novel nicotinic ligands are being developed to add to antipsychotic therapy to treat the cognitive impairment of schizophrenia. Thus, it is critical to understand the interaction between nicotinic treatments and antipsychotic drugs. Nicotinic interactions with antipsychotic drugs, are complex since both nicotine and antipsychotics have complex actions. Nicotine stimulates and desensitizes nicotinic receptors of various subtypes and potentiates the release of different neurotransmitters. Antipsychotics also act on a verity of receptor systems. For example, clozapine acts as an antagonist at a variety of neurotransmitter receptors such as those for dopamine, serotonin, norepinepherine and histamine. In a series of studies, we have found that in normally functioning rats, moderate doses of clozapine impair working memory and that clozapine blocks nicotine-induced memory and attentional improvement. Clozapine and nicotine can attenuate each other's beneficial effects in reversing the memory impairment caused by the psychototmimetic drug dizocilpine. A key to the clozapine-induced attenuation of nicotine-induced cognitive improvement appears to be its 5HT2 antagonist properties. The selective 5HT2 antagonist ketanserin has a similar action of blocking nicotine-induced memory and attentional improvements. It is important to consider the interactions between nicotinic and antipsychotic drugs to develop the most efficacious treatment for cognitive improvement in people with schizophrenia.

  • Re:Cheap? (Score:3, Informative)

    by shiftless ( 410350 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @02:06PM (#28988433) Homepage

    No you can't. This is totally false. YOU CANNOT OVERDOSE ON THC. The LD50 of marijuana is off the scale. It is estimated that a human would have to consume the equivalent of 15 lbs of marijuana in 15 minutes in order to overdose, a feat which is clearly impossible. Nobody has EVER died or been rendered seriously ill from consuming marijuana in any form; smoked OR eaten.

  • by mollog ( 841386 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @05:13PM (#28991013)
    Who's definition of addiction?

    By your definition, a diabetic is addicted to insulin. Obviously, you don't understand the issue.

    And, rewriting DNA/RNA? It happens with or without our help. Ever heard of a virus? How do you think it replicates?

    But the question of treatment of schizophrenia is not necessarily about 'fixing' DNA or RNA. DNA will predispose a person to schizophrenia, but it won't determine an outcome. Just as ulcers were once misunderstood, schizophrenia is not well understood. How on earth could we not know for so long that ulcers were caused by bacteria? The cause of ulcers is so pedestrian, yet even when a doctor found the cause, the medical community refused to let go of its previously held beliefs about the cause.

    We still don't have the ability to deterministically know whether people have had Lyme Disease, Borna Virus Disease, and other virus and retro-virus diseases. We are still in the dark about much of human health.

On a paper submitted by a physicist colleague: "This isn't right. This isn't even wrong." -- Wolfgang Pauli