Nicotine serves as an effective reinforcer of intravenous drug-taking behavior in human cigarette smokers

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2004 Sep;175(2):134-42. doi: 10.1007/s00213-004-1818-6. Epub 2004 Mar 2.


Rationale: Although numerous studies have documented that nicotine can function as an effective reinforcer of intravenous self-administration behavior in animals, it has not been clearly shown to maintain intravenous self-administration behavior above vehicle placebo levels in humans.

Objectives: To compare the reinforcing effectiveness of nicotine versus saline placebo in human research volunteers responding under fixed-ratio (FR) schedules of intravenous drug self-administration while systematically increasing response requirements.

Methods: Eight male cigarette smokers resided in an inpatient research unit. During 3-h sessions, intravenous injections of nicotine and saline were available concurrently and were contingent on responding (pulling a lever). Nicotine dose (0.75, 1.5, 3.0 mg/injection), time out (TO) value after each injection (1-20 min) and FR response requirement (10-1600) were varied in different subjects over consecutive sessions.

Results: Number of nicotine injections/session significantly decreased as dose/injection increased and the number of self-administered nicotine injections was significantly greater than the number of self-administered saline injections across conditions. When FR value was progressively increased over sessions, response rates for nicotine, but not saline, injections increased, with maximal rates at the highest FR values. Rates of responding and injections/session were markedly and significantly higher for nicotine than for saline at FR values of 200 and above. Subjects rated effects of nicotine as both significantly more positive and more negative than saline placebo, with positive ratings significantly higher than negative ratings.

Conclusions: Nicotine functioned as a prototypic drug of abuse, serving as an effective reinforcer of intravenous drug-taking behavior in human cigarette smokers. Subjects adjusted their responding to response requirements in a way that maintained relatively constant levels of nicotine injections per session.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior / drug effects*
  • Ganglionic Stimulants / administration & dosage
  • Ganglionic Stimulants / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Self Administration*
  • Smoking*


  • Ganglionic Stimulants
  • Nicotine