Does Nicotine Help Memory?

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

According to a recent study published in Neurology, there may well be a relationship between memory and nicotine.  But before you run out and take up smoking, let's examine the facts.

First, the study was conducted on a small number of participants (74), all of whom had a mild, prior memory deficit, and the nicotine was delivered through a transdermal patch, not through smoking cigarettes.  After six months, those who had received a nicotine patch outperformed a placebo group on cognitive tests of attention and memory.  In fact, the group receiving nicotine improved their baseline scores while the placebo group showed a decline in thinking abilities over the six month trial.

For sure, the well-documented risks associated with smoking (which include cognitive decline) would preclude any reasonable argument about smoking to preserve brian health.  But nicotine, if delivered without the burden of smoking, has been shown to interact with receptors in the brain and improve some chemical signals along neural circuits. It is more than plausible that this is a benefit we could one day harness for improved cognition.

The major caveats on this particular study are that it was very small, the noted cognitive gains were considered minimal, and many of the authors work for companies that sell nicotine patches.  Nonetheless, this early stage work is noteworthy and bodes well for future benefits.