The Cognitive Effects of Nicotine

Learn all about the ways in which Nicotine affects your brain after it is absorbed into the bloodstream.

cognitive effects of nicotinecognitive effects of nicotine

Cognitive Effects Of Nicotine

Nicotine, commonly found in the tobacco plant, is considered a stimulant. Stimulants are a class of psychoactive drug that speed up activity between the brain and the body to temporarily elevate alertness, mood and energy. However, nicotine is known to produce a relaxing sensation similar to that of a sedative or depressant, depending on the dosage and a person’s history of tobacco use. So, why is nicotine classified as a stimulant?


Because of the cognitive effects of nicotine, primarily the activation of certain brain chemicals, many scientists and drug authorities categorize it as a stimulant. Specifically, when a stimulant such as nicotine is absorbed in the body, it enters the bloodstream and excites the nervous system. As the nervous system is triggered, chemical messengers are released that affect different parts of the body and disrupt normal communication between cells in the brain.


What Does Nicotine Stimulate?

Once in the brain, nicotine stimulates acetylcholine receptors. These receptors play an important role in learning, memory, and cognitive processing.


In other parts of the brain, nicotine activates the neurotransmitter dopamine, the primary chemical that prompts enjoyable sensations, such as relaxation and contentment. Beta-endorphin levels also rise to reduce feelings of anxiety or stress. Users report feeling calmer and euphoric, which contributes to the rewarding effects of nicotine. As the pleasure centers are stimulated, the brain learns to associate nicotine use with feeling good. This is one reason why tobacco products are habit-forming and can be difficult to quit.


Stimulants affect everyone differently. It is important to consider the following factors when measuring how nicotine and cognition performance are related, and the ensuing impact:


  • The user’s size and weight
  • Current health conditions
  • How frequently the person uses nicotine, or the amount consumed
  • Whether other drugs are taken in combination with nicotine
  • The nicotine strength


While stimulants such as nicotine can temporarily increase cognitive function and boost mood, they can also impact other parts of the body, including the heart. For instance, when nicotine signals the adrenal glands to release the hormone epinephrine, it results in a surge in adrenaline. This subsequently raises heart rate, blood pressure and breathing activity. It can also cause the pancreas to produce less insulin and increase blood sugar levels.

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