Belief about nicotine content in cigarettes can curb cravings

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Some smokers can ease cravings not only by lighting up and giving the brain a hit of nicotine — but also by just thinking they're getting the drug, even when they're not, new research has discovered.

The Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas took 24 established smokers into the lab for a double-blind study.

They were asked to smoke under four conditions. For two visits, they were given a nicotine-containing cigarette each time. On two other visits, they were given a non-nicotine placebo. Here is the breakdown:

  • They believed the cigarette contained nicotine but received a placebo.
  • They believed the cigarette did not contain nicotine but received a nicotine cigarette.
  • They believed the cigarette contained nicotine and received nicotine.
  • They believed the cigarette did not contain nicotine and received a placebo.

After smoking, the participants completed a "reward learning task" while undergoing a brain scan. They rated their levels of craving before smoking the cigarette and after the task, which involved a game of investing in the stock market.

Scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to capture neural activity in the insula cortex, a region of the brain that plays a role in diverse functions and is also associated with drug cravings and addiction.

The purpose of using the task was to help activate the brain's brain's dopamine system, a little like gambling, said Dr. Xiaosi Gu, assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and the study's lead author.

The scans showed significant neural activity that correlated to both craving and learning signals when participants smoked a nicotine cigarette and believed its nicotine content was genuine. However, smoking nicotine but believing it was a placebo did not produce the same brain signals.

Continue Reading >>
BrainHealth® is a registered service mark of The University of Texas at Dallas