Cognitive performance effects of nicotine and industry affiliation: a systematic review

Subst Abuse. 2020 Jun 3:14:1178221820926545. doi: 10.1177/1178221820926545. eCollection 2020.


Background and aims: Studies assessing the cognitive performance effects of nicotine show inconsistent results and tobacco industry funding has been correlated with study outcomes. We conducted a systematic review of the primary literature assessing the cognitive performance effects of nicotine and assessed potential associations between tobacco and pharmaceutical industry affiliation and reported study conclusions.

Methods: We searched PubMed, EMBASE, PsycINFO, BIOSIS, and Web of Science for peer-reviewed journal articles published between 2009 and 2016 that: (1) were randomized controlled trials; (2) investigated the effects of nicotine on cognitive performance in a laboratory setting; (3) administered nicotine to healthy adults (18-60 years); and (4) included participants were nonsmokers or minimally deprived smokers (⩽2 hours of abstaining from smoking). Study disclosures and tobacco industry documents were reviewed to determine industry funding.

Results: Searches yielded 3,771 abstracts; 32 studies were included in the review. The majority of studies investigated the effects of nicotine on attention (n = 22). Nicotine had a non-uniform effect on attention: studies reported positive (41%; n = 9), mixed (41%; n = 9), and no effect (18%; n = 4). The majority of study authors had received prior tobacco industry funding (59%; n = 19), however over half of tobacco-industry funded authors did not report this (53%; n = 10).

Conclusions: Nicotine does not appear to be associated with consistent cognitive performance effects. Although no association was found between reported outcomes and tobacco or pharmaceutical industry funding, findings likely underestimate the influence of industry funding due to strict inclusion criteria and incomplete data on pharmaceutical industry funding.

Clinical trial registration: Not applicable.

Keywords: attention; bias; drug industry; nicotine; research; tobacco industry.