Nicotine and Schizophrenia: Help or Hazard?

Families of loved ones in the maelstrom may fret about collateral activity amidst the challenge of mental illness. Smoking is one such collateral activity.

A few years ago the state psychiatric hospitals in New Jersey went smoke-free, depriving patients one of the few individual freedoms enjoyed by the shut-ins. The reason was the widely accepted medical knowledge about the dangers of smoking.

Yet there has been evidence that nicotine, delivered through cigarettes, may have beneficial effects on those with schizophrenia. In a 2008 article of Psychiatric Times, Dr. A. Eden Evins of Boston reported data from a study that shows this. Among the article’s statements:

Between 72 and 90% of patients with schizophrenia are smokers.

“Sensory deficits characteristic of a neurobiological vulnerabilty to schizophrenia are to some extent reverses by nictoine administration.”

“Activation of nAChRs stimulates central dopamine release and turnover, which may be another mechanism by which nicotine may improve cognitive deficits, negative affects, and reward responsivity.”

Nicotine gum “improved performacne on additional tasks”.

“Nicotine thus facilitates patient performance on tasks involving high cognitive load, activates brain areas that facilitate attention, and increases inhibition of impulsive responses.”

Psychodyssey does not endorse cigarette smoking. But we sympthesize with those with psychiatric disabilities who do. Families of loved ones who smoke might take this information into account when advising and encouraging their loved ones in their recoveries.

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