Nicotine: It may have a good side

It gets people hooked on cigarettes, but researchers hope that nicotine and related compounds will have therapeutic uses.

Nicotine is rightly reviled because of its associations with smoking and addiction. But the rogue substance has a wide range of effects on the brain, which may include some healing properties. Researchers are testing nicotine and related compounds as treatments for Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other conditions.

Self-medicating with cigarettes

Epidemiological studies have hinted at nicotine's therapeutic potential. During the 1980s, several found that smokers had lower rates of Parkinson's disease than nonsmokers. Epidemiologists also validated what many mental health practitioners have long noticed: The smoking rate among people with schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety disorders is far higher than average. It's widely believed that people with certain mental health problems are self-medicating with cigarettes because the nicotine helps their minds function better.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »