Nicotine is a nitrogen-containing chemical produced by a number of plant types, including tobacco plants. It is also synthetically produced. Although it is not cancer-causing or excessively harmful on its own, nicotine is highly addictive and exposes people to the extremely harmful effects of tobacco dependence.
Nicotine seems doomed to suffer as a result of its association with smoking. Because it is the most famous constituent of tobacco, it has been accused of causing all the harm of smoking, when in reality it is all about burning tobacco that causes disease and death, except nicotine. Not only is nicotine blamed for health problems that it does not cause — like cancer and emphysema — but the actual health benefits of nicotine are often ignored or even suppressed.
Nicotine appears to be neuroprotective, helping to prevent degenerative brain diseases. And it appears that the same properties that make nicotine a powerful potential weapon against neurological diseases such as Parkinson's disease can also improve certain brain functions for anyone who chooses to use it. For example, nicotine temporarily improves working memory and visual attention.
Research has shown on numerous occasions that nicotine improves the short term. In fact, it is one of the most widely recognized benefits of nicotine. In a typical nicotine / memory study, researchers at the University of Surrey (U.K.) gave 10 smokers and 10 non-smokers either nicotine gum or placebo, and then completed short-term memory tasks at set points for four hours.
"The results suggest nicotine increased memory response time when subjects were tested for short-term data (correct positive responses) already in place but had no impact on time for reaction when information was absent from the memory," the authors wrote. "Nicotine is suggested to facilitate the processing in the short-term memory of stimulus information."
Many studies have shown that nicotine reduces (improves) reaction time when experimental tasks are performed. Smoking cigarettes, "under naturalistic conditions, improves the performance of the smoker in a related task," researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London tested 113 smokers.
Similarly, scientists of the University of Auckland (New Zealand) tested 29 topics "under conditions of non-smoking, sham smoking and low , medium or high nicotine cigarettes," and found Nicotine reduced (improved) time for decisions and increased (aggravated) time for decision making by sham smoking (by unclear cigarette motions). Effect was seen as a heavy or light smoker for the test subject.
It is easy to see why athletes may want to try nicotine as a medicine that improves performance. Better memory and reaction times are valuable commodities especially in complex team sports. And nicotine remains legal in the eyes of the governing bodies of the Sporting World (although, by rule or law, some American stadiums are "free of tobacco."
A 2017 meta-analysis of 10 studies on nicotine and athletic performance found that athletes believe that nicotine helps them perform better. Not only is smoking tobacco widespread among American football players and (especially) baseball players, but snus is very common among elite athletes from Sweden , Finland and Norway. Of the more than 400 Finnish athletes financed by their National Olympic Committee in 2002, 25 per cent used snus. Athlete reports that the use of smokeless tobacco prevents dry mouth, controls weight, helps relax and improves response time and concentration.
Almost 90% of people suffering from schizophrenia smoke cigarettes. That's about six times the rate of smoking in the general population. Scientists have long assumed this to be an example of self-medication.
A study by Uwe Maskos of the Pasteur Institute in Paris and a large international team showed the discovery of a genetic mutation associated with cognitive problems in many schizophrenic patients — which may also explain why so many people with schizophrenia smoke. The study describes how nicotine helps to normalize brain activity in people with mutations. The authors hope that their research will lead to effective nicotine-based treatment for mutation patients.
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