Many cigarette smokers report that smoking helps them stay alert and improves their concentration. Early research tended to support the idea that smoking enhanced human performance;however, many of these studies only demonstrated that smoking reversed withdrawal-induced performance deficits in nicotine-dependent individuals. More recent research has indicated that smoking or nicotine can truly enhance certain aspects of attention and memory. We have recently completed the first of a planned series of studies investigating the effect of varying doses of intranasal nicotine on attention and cognition. This initial study was designed to determine whether we could achieve dose-related effects of nicotine (0, 1, 2, mg) in a single test session. Nicotine dose-dependently increased subjective ratings of alert, head rush, and stimulated, and decreased ratings of relaxed, urge to smoke, and drowsy. Nicotine also increased heart rate and blood pressure. Nicotine dose-dependently increased correct responses and decreased omission errors on a test of sustained attention. Accuracy on an arithmetic test was also enhanced by nicotine in a dose-related manner. In both tests, there was no difference between 12-hr tobacco-deprived and nondeprived conditions. In future studies, we will use this dosing paradigm to investigate the effect of nicotine in smokers and nonsmokers on the various elements of attention: encode, focus/execute, shift, sustain, and stabilize.

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Kleykamp, Bethea A; Heishman, Stephen J (2011) The older smoker. JAMA 306:876-7
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Heishman, Stephen J; Kleykamp, Bethea A; Singleton, Edward G (2010) Meta-analysis of the acute effects of nicotine and smoking on human performance. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 210:453-69