Nicotine: Risks and Performance-Enhancing Effects

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Nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco, has been available in the United States for over 20 centuries. Nicotine and compounds effecting nicotinic acetylcholine receptor stimulation have been implicated in the improvement of a number of neuronal conditions, functions, and activities. Sixteen functional human nicotinic receptors have been identified throughout the body pre-, post-, and perisynaptically; and 12 functional types are known to exist in the CNS. Nicotine's therapeutic characteristics provide partial relief from degenerative neurologic diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and have been found to impact anxiety and depression, attention-deficit disorder, motor skills, cognitive functions and memory. For example, experimental animal studies have demonstrated that nicotine-induced memory improvements remain after the withdrawal of nicotine. Advances in the understanding of nicotine's action on the central nervous system (CNS) have led to insight into the pervasive and enduring nature of addiction. This paper will review studies from laboratory and clinical findings indicating the importance of CNS nicotinic mechanisms in normal human cognitive and behavioral functioning as well as their role in disease states. In addition, the efficacy of nicotine replacement therapy for smoking cessation will be reviewed in terms of demographics and response rates.

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