The calming neurological effects of nicotine have been demonstrated in a group of non-smokers during anger provocation. Researchers writing in BioMed Central’s open access journal Behavioral and Brain Functions suggest that nicotine may alter the activity of brain areas that are involved in the inhibition of negative emotions such as anger.
Smokers often say that lighting up a cigarette can calm their nerves, satisfy their cravings, and help them feel energized. Indeed, nicotine in tobacco joins on to receptors in your brain that release “feel good” chemicals that can make you feel calm and energized all at once. Smoking acts as a drug, inducing a feeling of well-being with each puff. But, it’s a phony sense of well-being that never produces a permanent satisfying or fulfilling result. Smoking lures you into believing that you can escape some underlying truth or reality. However, smoking doesn’t allow you to actually transform your day-to-day life and live connected to your deeper hopes and dreams.
Instead, when you smoke, the carbon monoxide in the smoke bonds to your red blood cells, taking up the spaces where oxygen needs to bond. This makes you less able to take in the deep, oxygen-filled breath needed to bring you life, to activate new energy, to allow health and healing, or bring creative insight into your problems and issues.
Brain scans have revealed that nicotine does indeed have a calming effect, something smokers have claimed for years.
A small study found that nicotine administered via a patch was associated with a reduced tendency to retaliate against an opponent during a game, Jean Gehricke, M.D., of the University of California Irvine, and colleagues reported online in Behavioral and Brain Functions.
Those who held back also showed changes in brain metabolism. Dr. Gehricke said length of retaliation was “associated with changes in brain metabolism in response to nicotine in brain areas responsible for orienting, planning, and processing of emotional stimuli.”
he findings support the idea that people with an angry disposition are more susceptible to nicotine’s effects and are therefore more likely to become addicted to cigarettes, the researchers said.
To identify regions of the brain that are most reactive to nicotine, they conducted a study of 20 nonsmokers who completed two games with a fictitious opponent. They played one game wearing a 3.5-mg nicotine patch, and the other with a matched placebo patch.
Participants were able to send their opponents a “noise blast” if the opponent lost, and the opponent could do the same.
The researchers assessed whether increased provocation from the opponent would increase participants’ likelihood of increasing noise blasts sent back to their competitor. Participants simultaneously underwent fluorodeoxy-glucose PET scans.
The researchers found that participants wearing the nicotine patches had changes in reaction time and retaliation, and they also showed changes in brain metabolism on PET.
Those who had a decreased reaction time during the game while receiving nicotine had decreased brain metabolism in the left thalamus (P<0.0001). Reductions in length of retaliation time were associated with increased brain metabolism in cortical and subcortical structures including the right frontal lobe, right anterior cingulated, right uncus, and left parietal lobe (P<0.0001). No significant associations were found for the intensity of retaliation. The findings suggest that nicotine interferes with cortical and subcortical functioning responsible for processing emotional stimuli and other complex adaptive, motivated behaviors, such as the regulation of emotion, the researchers said. They also emphasized the role of "negative affect, particularly anger, in susceptibility to nicotine," indicating that angry disposition "could be a risk factor for smoking initiation and nicotine addiction." The authors suggested that anger management might be an important component of smoking cessation therapy to try to reduce nicotine withdrawal and craving.