While we emphatically agree that quitting is the best thing a smoker can do for his or her health, we’ve never shied away from the stance that there might be some benefits to smoking (and we’re not afraid to consider the decline in smoking in the US may relate to the rise of obesity, depression, and even cell phone usage).
It turns out we’re not alone, and now scientists are buzzing about the benefits of nicotine administered directly to the brain. According to a story in MIT Technology Review:
“Everyone knows that smoking does good things and bad,” says David Lowe, chief scientific officer at Memory Pharmaceuticals, a biopharmaceutical company based in Montvale, NJ. “We’re trying to focus on receptors that mediate the good things.”
The good things include a positive effect on memory and attention, as evidenced both by cognitive testing and by the legions who file outside for smoke breaks before an exam or an important meeting. Meanwhile, smokers have a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s and possibly Alzheimer’s diseases. And people with schizophrenia and attention deficit disorder are much more likely to smoke than the general population; scientists believe that these patients may be unconsciously self-medicating to make up for some kind of deficit in the brain.
Several companies hope to turn these observations into therapies. Targacept, a drug development company based in North Carolina, has developed a compound that targets a specific type of nicotine receptor known as the alpha-4/beta-2 receptor. In a study of almost 200 people, both patients with age-related memory problems and healthy controls, researchers found that those who had taken the drug performed significantly better on tests of memory and attention.
The Surgeon General has not commented on this research, but Phillip Morris has announced a new inhaled nicotine delivery device, available now, that can be used without a prescription.
More from Memory Pharmaceuticals and Targacept…