Acute reinforcing effects of low-dose nicotine nasal spray in humans

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1997 Feb;56(2):235-41. doi: 10.1016/s0091-3057(96)00216-x.


Tobacco smoking behavior is reinforced by nicotine intake, but there has been little human research examining self-administration of nicotine per se, isolated from tobacco. In this study, 10 smokers (5 men, 5 women) who wanted to quit smoking sampled 0 (placebo), 0.75, and 1.5 ug/kg/spray nicotine via nasal spray during separate lab sessions before engaging in a free choice session, involving ad lib access to all three spray doses. Subjects also ad lib smoked during another session. For the group as a whole, neither nicotine spray dose was self-administered significantly more than placebo during the free choice session, suggesting low abuse potential. However, 4 of 10 subjects self-administered 1.5 ug/kg/spray on more than 50% of all sprays (vs. 33% chance) and were designated nicotine "choosers," while the others were "nonchoosers." Choosers responded to initial nicotine spray exposure during sampling sessions with greater positive subjective effects (similar to their responses to tobacco smoking), smoked more during the ad lib smoking session (i.e., self-administered more nicotine via tobacco smoking), and tended to be more heavily dependent smokers. They did not report greater withdrawal relief or less aversive effects from nicotine, suggesting their greater nicotine choice reflected greater positive reinforcement rather than negative reinforcement. These results are consistent with the few existing studies demonstrating that acute nicotine intake per se, in the absence of tobacco, may be reinforcing in some smokers.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Self Administration / psychology
  • Smoking / psychology*


  • Nicotine