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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 Zantac69 ( 1331461 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:09AM (#28985095) Journal
    Now they need to do a study on those of us who run on caffeine...
  • Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dustie ( 1253268 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:10AM (#28985097)

    As I suffer from schizophrenia myself I know how bad your memory can get because of it. Maybe there is a connection between I stopped smoking and I (finally) got a diagnose on what was wrong with me. Perhaps it made the symptoms clearer?

    I sure hope it is correct and doesn't get debunked.

  • Old News (Score:1, Interesting)

    by grahamsaa ( 1287732 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:10AM (#28985101)
    This is old news -- nicotine has long been known to improve cognitive function in schizophrenics. I remember hearing about this in an undergrad abnormal psych class about 5 years ago.
  • Re:Typical (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BubbaDave ( 1352535 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:11AM (#28985111)

    We have genetic engineers- it's about time to crossbreed tobacco with coffee so coffee has caffeine and nicotine.


  • Not really news (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cashman73 ( 855518 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:12AM (#28985115) Journal
    This isn't exactly breaking news. It's long been known that nicotine has had positive cognitive and memory-enhancing benefits in most people. So the fact that it might help someone with schizophrenia to get somewhat "back to normal" doesn't really surprise me. Not sure if I'd recommend that they smoke, though. There are other ways of delivering nicotine to the brain without all the other crap that cigarettes have associated with them,...
  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:15AM (#28985153)


    The participants showed improvement in brain function, including less impulsive behaviour and better levels of attention, which are both unrelated to nicotine withdrawal, said Barr. ...
    Ultimately, the aim of the research is to reduce the number of schizophrenics who smoke cigarettes.

    On average, life expectancy in people with the condition is reduced by 10 years in large part due to cardiovascular disease and smoking-related cancer (see Why nicotine is bad for you, Cosmos Online).

    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.

    Mohammed Shoaib, a psychopharmacologist from the University of Newcastle, in the north of England, commented that nicotine-based therapies would offer a significant advancement over current treatments, which do little for the cognitive problems seen with the disease.

    Nice to see the anti-smoking lobby contradicting the Paki doctor right there in the middle of the article. When the researching doctor says "hey, we may have found a great new treatment based on X", maybe the government shouldn't use its mouthpieces (cosmos magazine in this case) to tell him to fuck off right in the same article.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:17AM (#28985167) Journal
    Were smoking a cause of mental issues(in any significant number of cases) we almost certainly would have noticed. Smoking rates, and amounts smoked per person, have plummeted [gallup.com] since the 40's. We've been able to detect drops in other smoking related conditions; if psychiatric problems are smoking related, that should show up too.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FlyingSquidStudios ( 1031284 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:33AM (#28985289) Homepage
    I suppose a way to test it for yourself would be to get the patch or the gum and see if it helps you. At least that way, you're not getting most of the bad stuff too.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:2, Interesting)

    by FlyingSquidStudios ( 1031284 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:39AM (#28985343) Homepage
    But is an addiction to nicotine really all that problematic if you're addicted to the patch or the gum? Does nicotine alone have long-term health effects and would those effects outweigh the possible benefits?
  • Cartilage (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Baldrson ( 78598 ) * on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:42AM (#28985351) Homepage Journal
    One of the less known bad effects of nicotine is destruction of cartilage. This can show up as lower back pain or knee pain. [bmj.com]
  • Re:Typical (Score:2, Interesting)

    by maxume ( 22995 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:50AM (#28985443)

    That sounds like a terrible idea, caffeine is pretty addictive, but it is mostly a mild stimulant. There is research that suggests that nicotine completely rewires the pleasure centers of the brain (to make them dependent on nicotine):

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=hooked-from-the-first-cigarette [scientificamerican.com]

  • by PeterM from Berkeley ( 15510 ) <petermardahl@@@yahoo...com> on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:57AM (#28985523) Journal


        I sympathize with your problem and I am glad that smoking helps you out. However, is it necessary for you to smoke to obtain nicotine or could you obtain it through a less harmful means than smoking such as a nicotine patch, for example?

        I wonder if there is a way you could medicate yourself with fewer risk of downsides such as lung cancer by getting nicotine in some other way.



  • Re:Typical (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BlueStrat ( 756137 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:58AM (#28985529)

    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.

    Of course! The pharma interests can't have people just willy-nilly feeling better without paying THEM!! Where would they be if people were just allowed to use naturally-occurring plants and herbs they could grow themselves for next to nothing to cure sickness and disease, and help them lead an enjoyable productive life?

    There's a fellow in Canada that has done some amazing work and has gotten equally amazing results in curing cancer and many other illnesses using hemp oil extract. The pharma interests have completely ignored his work and the government is doing it's best to shut him down and keep it quiet.

    It's no secret to smokers that smoking helps one to relax and improves concentration. I've been in the electronics field for over 30 years. All the very best technicians and engineers I've ever known were smokers.

    Besides, this one is easy since it's already being demonized in the US and other Western countries. Can't have the proles doing anything they might enjoy. Sure, it shortens average lifespans, but if you're poor or lower-middle class, you're life expectancy is already going to be much shorter on average than the rich. Besides, why live so long if one can't enjoy themselves?

    The anti-smoking zealots who always say that smoking costs the rest of us because government programs have to pay for smokers' healthcare won't consider NOT having government providing healthcare. To my thinking, government should not be involved in providing or paying for healthcare or healthcare insurance in the first place. It's yet another area where the government has perverted or totally ignored the Constitution.

    If government didn't restrict the plans that health insurance companies could sell, where they could sell it, for what price, and to whom, then someone who is a non-smoker could buy a plan that would have the cost of others' smoking factored out because they'd be in a risk-pool with other non-smokers while smokers would pay for any extra risk and cost. Governments' only role should be establishing laws and regulations to provide a free and fair market for healthcare and healthcare insurance and prosecute fraud and abuse.

    Now the progressives are proposing universal government-run single-payer healthcare and healthcare insurance, and planning on paying a large part of it with taxes on tobacco. But they're trying to get people to NOT smoke, so either it's a scam and they planned from the start to tax everyone, or they'll have to encourage smoking to pay for their healthcare and healthcare insurance plans.

    Smokers won't be the only ones to be demonized though if universal healthcare comes to pass. It will be a politicians' wet dream come true as they'll have an open license to police lifestyles which will mean ever-more-intrusive government.

    Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

    It's the patriotic thing to do!


  • Re:Interesting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dustie ( 1253268 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:59AM (#28985549)

    Sadly Abilify makes me seriously ill even with half the dose of the smallest pill and Seroquel both made me tired like a walking zombie and also made me put on a lot of weight. As far as I know I have tried all of the "new anti psychotics". Only one that wasn't too bad was Zeldox. Unfortunately it does not look like science is going to understand schizophrenia (or the brain for that matter) anytime soon especially the "negative symptoms".

    Negative symptoms - Wikipedia:

    ...loss or absence of normal traits or abilities, and include features such as flat or blunted affect and emotion, poverty of speech (alogia), inability to experience pleasure (anhedonia), lack of desire to form relationships (asociality), and lack of motivation (avolition).

  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @10:17AM (#28985699) Homepage Journal

    I saw news of a study a few weeks ago (here maybe?) That showed the same genes that are associated with schitzophrenia are also linked to creativity, and that the difference between a schitzophrenic and a creative person was intelligence.

    I wonder if niccotine would enhance creativity in non-schitzophrenic creative types?

  • Old news (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 07, 2009 @10:42AM (#28985919)
    I was told years ago that smoking helps relieve schizophrenic symptoms (and schizophrenic affect), reduces incidence of hallucinations, etc. I've definitely noticed my "normal" pack-a-day skyrocket to near constant chainsmoking when i haven't had insurance and been off my meds. Shrinks have been aware of this for some time.
  • by goffster ( 1104287 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @11:17AM (#28986343)

    Many schizophrenics are chain smokers, because for many of them,
    the demons hold their tongue for the duration of the cig, and a few minutes after

  • FWIW (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mindbrane ( 1548037 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @11:23AM (#28986397) Journal
    Schizophrenia isn't very well defined and, to further complicate things, there are diagnoses that couple schizophrenia with other disorders that, in turn, aren't well defined. Two current, prevalent theories, not necessarily at odds, suggest on one hand that schizophrenia is tied directly into the dopamine system, and, OTOH, that schizophrenia is a disorder arising from the brain's architecture. The first theory usually involves medications that dampen the dopamine system but that have, literally, potentially killer, side effects. The idea that schizophrenia is tied to the brain's architecture is broad and incorporates ideas that there are genetic, congenial causes for schizophrenia that can be exacerbated by environmental factors, such as physical, or, emotional insult or forms of neglect. Concurrent with the second view is that the small, inter neurons that connect long range disparate neural pathways don't function up to par in schizophrenics. Smoking cigarettes is prevalent among schizophrenics but given the lack of consensus as to what constitutes schizophrenia it's unlikely that a link between the effects of nicotine and schizophrenic symptoms is rigorous or robust. Nicotine and caffeine both seem to be disproportionatley favoured by certain types of uni students. I doubt there's any significant representation of schizophrenia among said population of students.

    The positive symptoms of schizophrenia are those the public is most likely to bring to mind when envisioning schizophrenics, these include auditory hallucinations and paranoid behaviour. It's these symptoms that seem to be most amenable to treatment with drugs that act on the dopamine system. The second set of the disease's symptoms are termed negative symptoms and include social isolation and degrees of depression. These secondary symptoms currently have few effective treatments. My best guess would be that nicotine and smoking, (the ritual and anachronistic, Freudian, oral pleasure) treat the secondary symptoms.

    FWIW I'm a diagnosed schizophrenic with a uni education and a plus 160 IQ. I've been diagnosed as schizophrenic, schizo-affective, and, possibly not schizophrenic at all; but my favourite diagnosis came from a neuropsychiatrist, who, upon learning that I had begun studies of epistemology at age 17, said: "People who study epistemology... (long pause)... I don't know... (head shaking)... I just don't know." My case seems to be the more interesting because I recognized my symptoms and sought medical attention, and, while suffering the full range of symptoms, was able to deal with them as symptoms of a disease and not as in any way defining who I am or considering them as causes of action. John Nash, he of "A Beautiful Mind" escaped the symptoms of his schizophrenia when he learned not to argue with his voices. The most debilitating aspect of schizophrenia is that people seem not to understand that it's a brain based disease and that the mind, as put by a neuroscientist, is just the brain doing it's job. More high functioning schizophrenics are able to get on with their lives because schizophrenia is now known to be a a disease no different than any other and the symptoms can be detected, marked, treated, minimized, and, over time, all but disregarded in day to day life.

  • Re:Cheap? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @12:10PM (#28987003) Journal

    The LD50 of nicotine is 50 mg/kg for rats and 3 mg/kg for mice. 0.5-1.0 mg/kg can be a lethal dosage for adult humans.[2][3] Nicotine therefore has a high toxicity in comparison to many other alkaloids such as cocaine, which in mice has an LD50 of 95.1 mg/kg. It is impossible however to overdose on nicotine through smoking alone (though a person can overdose on nicotine through a combination of nicotine patches, nicotine gum, and/or tobacco smoking at the same time.) [4] [5] Spilling an extremely high concentration of nicotine onto the skin can result in intoxication or even death since nicotine readily passes into the bloodstream from dermal contact.Nicotine poisoning [wikipedia.org]

    I'd call that pretty toxic.

  • Re:Typical (Score:2, Interesting)

    by anotheregomaniac ( 1439993 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @12:24PM (#28987159)
    Thank you for the link to that article. I became addicted to cigarettes at age 11, after just one. Worst mistake of my life. It took me almost twenty years to quit for good (and that was twenty five years ago). Now I have a better understanding of why.
  • by ami.one ( 897193 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .rhbatima.> on Friday August 07, 2009 @12:39PM (#28987367)

    Electronic Cigarettes (more accurately -Personal Vaporizer or PV) simply vaporize a nicotine solution to avoid the harmful effects of smoke and its 8000 chemicals.

    I was on a pack a day for 15 years and in a month of starting 'vaping' i have gone to zero analog cigarettes without missing my nic kick.

    Checkout Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] for basic info or ecig-forum [e-cigarette-forum.com] for detailed info.

    These look like normal cigarettes, have rechargeable batteries with convenient cartridges or refilling BUT it does takes a week or two to get everything right,so be careful of which model etc you choose. Ask me for advise if in doubt.

    Incidentally, FDA is trying to ban them for some of the most stupid reasons [washingtontimes.com]

    AND - I am not associated with any seller etc. so its not a plug. Just trying to help !

  • Caffeine Anyone? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by filesiteguy ( 695431 ) <perfectreign@gmail.com> on Friday August 07, 2009 @12:51PM (#28987513) Homepage
    I have a cousin diagnosed as schizophrenic. He's 33 and lives at home with no ability to maintain a simple job.

    Now, prior to being diagnosed a few years back, he self-medicated with both cigarettes and alcohol. I wonder - if nicotene is a stimulant - wouldn't a few Red Bull cans or even Ritalin do the same job? I figure I'm ADAD, and I love my caffeine. I don't really care for smoking though I can see its benefits. (It has its drawbacks also, as my two-pack/day father passed away at the early age of 67.)
  • by teleny ( 4948 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @02:03PM (#28988393)
    What I'd heard (some years ago) was that cigarettes helped to soften the blow of phenothiazine-based drugs (Thorazine, Stelazine, etc.) that are commonly given to schizophrenics. These drugs work by removing L-dopa from the brain, and depressing the forebrain, thus making the subject more tractable and easy to deal with in institutional situations (the so-called chemical straitjacket, lobotomy in a pill, etc.) Marketed to doctors as "insulin for schizophrenics", they, indeed seem to work for a while: the subject becomes peaceful, and nearly unemotional, easily suggestible, and with few thoughts of their own. Higher cognition becomes more difficult: it's not unusual for someone on these drugs to go from, say, playing classical piano to watching, with interest, "Dancing with the Stars".

    However, a few months later, side effects usually begin to occur: tics and twitches, a ravenous appetite, which coupled with the disinclination to move, quickly produces extreme obesity (and ironically Type 2 diabetes), and a pernicious apathy that slowly extends itself to jobs, appearance, other people and life itself. Worse, trying to get off these drugs means that psychotic symptoms reoccur, even worse than before, as the body's L-dopa production often has increased to unnatural levels. While it's true that some patients can function, and sometimes quite well, under these circumstances, the truth is that most of them do not, and the simple equation Psychotic - (L-dopa) = Normal simply does not hold up.

    What nicotine, and to some extent, alcohol does is to increase L-dopa to a slight degree, but not as much as simply going without the drugs, and it does so fairly quickly. Part of the problem with the neuroleptics is that brain hormone production and consumption varies from moment to moment -- what would be "too much", say, waiting for a bus, would be "not enough" dancing at a lively party, brainstorming a new product, or trying to organize housework.

    Without getting all Tom Cruise on you, I don't think that they're using the right angle.

  • Interesting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by stuntpope ( 19736 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @02:37PM (#28988919)

    Years ago I had a girlfriend who rarely smoked. She started having episodes of severe depression with hospitalization, with diagnoses including personality disorder and I believe schizophrenia. During these times she would smoke nearly non-stop. Self-medicating?

  • by RonMcMahon ( 544607 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @03:25PM (#28989477) Homepage
    My sister has schizophrenia and her smoking has increased dramatically since the onset of the disease a decade ago. She is pretty much a chain-smoker now...this effect of nicotine helps to explain why she would be dedicating so much time, effort and the majority of her money to this gross practice (yellow fingers and all). With this knowledge I'm going to see what can be prescribed for her (such as a patch or nicotine gum) to help get her the aid of the drug without the cost or health risks of a cigarette-based delivery mechanism. Thanks to the poster for sharing this news!

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