Nicotine as a Nootropic and Lucid Dream Supplement
Few things have gotten as bad of a rap as Nicotine. The principle psychoactive constituent in tobacco, Nicotine is today considered to be the scourge of many a person's lives. Obtained primarily through smoking cigarettes, Nicotine is blamed as the vector for terrible addictions and diseases. I have a personal connection to this perceived monster: Not long ago my father died from Emphysema after a lifetime of smoking Marlboro Reds, a particularly potent delivery system for Nicotine. Last time I saw him alive, hooked up to oxygen machines, he told me that the problem with his Emphysema wasn't so much the breathing in, but that it was nearly impossible to breathe out – it was like trying to exhale through a straw. Argh.
My Dad grew up in a time when Cigarettes were only starting to be viewed as cancer sticks and weapons of self-destruction; through incessant marketing and even doctor recommendations on TV commercials cigarettes were still ubiquitous in our culture, glamorous and rugged at the same time. Starting off with two packs of Reds a day – at 12-years-old – my Pops never had a chance to know what a smoke-free life could be like.
So, is that it; is Nicotine the Devil, or is there more to the story? My first hint that Nicotine may be more than a simple mental crutch, only good for lunch breaks and after-sex reveries, was when as a child I would watch Dad in his home-office drawing up blueprints. He would have a sheet of oversized paper on the drawing table, multiple other draft-sheets spread out on another table, mechanical pencils and stencils (this was in the days before CAD took over), all sorts of tools of the trade laid out, and always…a cigarette, or two, burning in the ashtray. He would close himself into his small workspace, windows closed more often than not, fully immersed in a cloud of stinky nostalgia. Cigarettes were as much a part of my father as were his Doo-wop music and Buddy Holly, as his tomato plants in the summer garden. Even if he was working 10-hours straight – measuring, figuring, assembling detailed schematics into instructional images – I don't think more than a nano-second would pass when there wasn't a Marlboro blazing away. I don't know how conscious my father was of the effect that all of this Nicotine had on the quality of his work output, but it was an integral component. He never finished his degree in architecture and did his drawings as a side-job, "under-the-table," but people in the field told me he was the best. And he did what he did best with the help of Nicotine.
Think about Albert Einstein – always with his pipe. Freud – cigar. These aren't men known for being lazy thinkers. Actually, until recently, almost all serious academic and deep-cognitive pursuits were aided by tobacco. America may have celebrated its defiant attitude with a little Tea Party all those years ago, but coffee and cigarettes built this nation up from the ground. True, smoke is smoke and there is no question any longer whether regular tobacco inhalation damages the lungs and in-turn many other organ-systems. Cigarettes stain your teeth and fingernails, cause chronic mucus congestion, leave an unpleasant odor stuck to your clothes and hair, and are responsible for diseases that can drag out in years of torture before becoming fatal. And as America makes progress in shedding itself from the enslavement of cigarettes, the death-march of tobacco use in places like Asia and India is healthy as ever. But back to topic – how much of the problem is Nicotine, and is it possible that this chemical is one of the most powerful and slept-on Nootropics in existence?
Although Nicotine addiction is one of the hardest to break – as difficult or more-so than heroin and cocaine – this may be in part due to the complicated inter-reactions of all of the compounds in tobacco. It should also be noted that every major brand of Cigarette has manipulated the chemical composition of their products (including the addition of dozens of synthetic compounds) and upped the percentage of Nicotine yearly. And mentholated cigarettes – largely marketed to "minority" communities – have a half-life twice that of ordinary cigarettes. The result of all this: a more effective, more addictive, more deadly smoke delivery system. In about 15-seconds, a puff of cigarette smoke sends Nicotine across the blood-brain barrier; by the time you reach the butt your body has absorbed about 1mg of Nicotine, but also a host of other rarely discussed chemicals with physiological actions only known by industry insiders. Plus, smoking fills you with carbon monoxide. All of this dangerous effort to get Nicotine into the brain. Why?
Nicotine works in the nervous system by increasing the activity of nicotinic receptors – involved in the release of Acetylcholine – and has various effects on both the central and peripheral nervous system. In the brain, small doses of Nicotine can increase sensory perceptions and improve attention. At skeletal-muscular junctions Acetylcholine is responsible for muscular contractions, and in the heart has a calming response (counter-acted by Nicotine's epinephrine releasing action). Even with its well understood performance enhancing qualities and addictive potential, Nicotine and tobacco are not regulated by the major sports organizations. Ever wonder why so many baseball players chew tobacco? With its concomitant repugnant spitting, chewing-tobacco also helps athletes to bring their A-game.
Nicotine is both a stimulant and a relaxant – in different neural junctions – able to trigger relaxation and alertness at the same time. While temporarily reducing anxiety, Nicotine can also reduce the appetite and raise the metabolism. At large doses Nicotine changes from acting as a stimulant to that of a sedative/pain-killer; at very large doses, death occurs (like with many chemicals). Although the therapeutic use of isolated Nicotine is usually limited to aiding in the cessation of cigarette use, there are also potential benefits to the cogent intake of this drug, as are there numerous Smoker's Paradoxes."
If it weren't for all of the tar and carcinogenic chemicals in smoking tobacco, the Nicotine might actually be good for you (with prudent use). Acting as an anti-infammatory, Nicotine can reduce allergic asthma and colitis in the bowels; while smoking tobacco increases the risk, Nicotine itself may decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease; Nicotine may also be beneficial for improving the symptoms of depression, ADHD, and schizophrenia. That's not all – Nicotine can be used by itself as a Nootropic supplement.
If you are addicted to tobacco, attempting to use Nicotine – in the form of transdermal patches or chewing gum – may be risky if you wish to stop smoking. However, the primary purpose for these forms of Nicotine is already to aid in quitting cigarettes, so use your own discretion. Nicotine fits much of the profile we would want from a Nootropic, or "smart drug" – enhanced perception, increased attention span, augmented working memory. The addictive potential for individuals who are not already cigarette or tobacco smokers is arguable, and Nicotine is somewhat stimulating on a physical level, so its inclusion as a Nootropic is not agreed upon by everyone. However, if you and/or your doctor condones, a small dose patch could be an interesting experiment when searching for cognitive enhancers that react appropriately to your unique physiology.
Another interesting application for Nicotine is as a lucid dream inducing supplement. With the ease of use that Nicotine patches present, you can stick one of these on your skin at specific times (meshes well with the Wake-Back-To-Bed method of lucidity induction) and in a regulated, slow-release dosage. The delivery system of a patch is remarkable. Many people report vivid dreaming while they use Nicotine patches overnight, as an unintended side-effect of this smoking-cessation tool. Of course, these vivid dreams are likely to be scary and uncomfortable (after all, this is a major function of dreaming), but they can also be exciting and can even become lucid. If you are aware of techniques to increase your chances of becoming lucid in dreams – realizing that you are dreaming while in a dream – and you are familiar with stabilization techniques and dream goal-setting, Nootropics like Nicotine can be occasionally used as part of your program (assuming you are over 18 and qualify under the previous cautions). Too much Nicotine, as in larger-dose patches, can make it difficult to sleep, cause headaches and nausea, and not help at all toward your lucid dream induction efforts. But if you are inclined to experiment in this direction, Nicotine may be a useful tool for both your daytime Nootropic needs and your lucid dream explorations.