New Info on Nicotine's Effect May Lead To Better Treatment

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Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have discovered that it takes much longer than traditionally thought for nicotine levels to peak in the brains of cigarette smokers.

The Study

Researchers used PET imaging to look at the levels of nicotine in the brains of cigarette smokers. They found that brain nicotine levels steadily rose while a cigarette was smoked, instead of spiking with each puff of the cigarette as was previously thought.

Additionally, a comparison of dependent and non-dependent smokers showed that brain nicotine levels increased more slowly in dependent smokers, a result of nicotine staying longer in the lungs.

The study results appeared online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

What Does This Mean?

Scientists previously thought that the nicotine in cigarette smoke had a nearly instant effect on the brain, being taken up within 7 seconds of inhalation. Scientists thought that cigarette smoking causes spikes in brain nicotine levels with each puff and many current smoking cessation techniques and treatments are based on this theory, but this new study calls it into question. Learning more about the way nicotine affects the brain can help pinpoint the factors responsible for smoking addiction, meaning this groundbreaking study could lead to more effective treatments.

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