Acute nicotine improves cognitive deficits in young adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2008 Feb;88(4):407-17. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2007.09.014. Epub 2007 Sep 26.


Objective: The strong association between ADHD and cigarette smoking and the known effects of nicotine on cognition has lead to interest in the role of cholinergic function in ADHD cognitive deficits. We have previously demonstrated that acute nicotine improves behavioral inhibition in adolescents with ADHD. This study examined acute nicotine in young adults with ADHD-Combined type on cognitive domains including behavioral inhibition, delay aversion, and recognition memory.

Methods: 15 non-smoking young adults (20+/-1.7 years) diagnosed with ADHD-C received acute nicotine (7 mg patch for 45 min) and placebo on separate days. Cognitive tasks included the Stop Signal Task, Choice Delay task, and the High-Low Imagery Task (a verbal recognition memory task). Three subjects experienced side effects and their data was excluded from analysis of cognitive measures.

Results: There was a significant (p<.05) positive effect of nicotine on the Stop Signal Reaction Time measure of the Stop Signal Task. The SSRT was improved without changes in GO reaction time or accuracy. There was a trend (p=.09) for nicotine to increase tolerance for delay and a strong trend (p=.06) for nicotine to improve recognition memory.

Conclusions: Non-smoking young adults with ADHD-C showed improvements in cognitive performance following nicotine administration in several domains that are central to ADHD. The results from this study support the hypothesis that cholinergic system activity may be important in the cognitive deficits of ADHD and may be a useful therapeutic target.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Adult
  • Affect / drug effects
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / drug therapy*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology*
  • Behavior / drug effects
  • Choice Behavior / drug effects
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination / drug effects
  • Male
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage
  • Nicotine / adverse effects
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Nicotinic Agonists / administration & dosage
  • Nicotinic Agonists / adverse effects
  • Nicotinic Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Reaction Time / drug effects
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotine