Nicotine and the central nervous system: biobehavioral effects of cigarette smoking

Am J Med. 1992 Jul 15;93(1A):2S-7S. doi: 10.1016/0002-9343(92)90619-m.


The effects of nicotine, like those of other drugs with potential for abuse and dependence, are centrally mediated. The impact of nicotine on the central nervous system is neuroregulatory in nature, affecting biochemical and physiological functions in a manner that reinforces drug-taking behavior. Dose-dependent neurotransmitter and neuroendocrine effects occur as plasma nicotine levels rise when a cigarette is smoked. Circulating levels of norepinephrine and epinephrine increase, and the bioavailability of dopamine is altered as well. Among the neuroendocrine effects are release of arginine vasopressin, beta-endorphin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, and cortisol. Notably, several of these neurochemicals are psychoactive and/or known to modulate behavior. Thus, affective states or cognitive demands may be favorably modified (at least temporarily) by nicotine intake. When nicotine is inhaled, the neuroregulatory effects just described are immediately available and the reinforcing effects of the drug are maximized. On the other hand, nicotine gum and most other nicotine replacement vehicles in current use have a slower onset of action, resulting in less reinforcement value. Recent data suggest that smoking cessation rates may be optimized by tailoring the dose of nicotine replacement (for example, 2 or 5 mg of nicotine gum) to the individual degree of nicotine dependence. In view of the dynamic interactions between the neuroregulatory effects of nicotine and a host of environmental conditions, nicotine replacement therapy is best carried out in combination with behavior modification techniques.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy
  • Behavior*
  • Catecholamines / blood
  • Central Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Neurosecretory Systems / drug effects
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology
  • Nicotine*
  • Pituitary Hormones / blood
  • Smoking Cessation
  • Smoking* / blood
  • Substance-Related Disorders / drug therapy
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology*


  • Catecholamines
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Pituitary Hormones
  • Nicotine