Vaping & depression: Vanderbilt study focuses on nicotine as anti-depressant
Vaping enthusiasts have known for years that the nicotine in combustible cigarettes is not life-threatening. It’s the multitude of included addictive chemicals that can kill you.
Big Tobacco companies lace their products with extra ingredients specifically chosen to enhance their addictive qualities. Based on this information, what would be the possible effects on public health if the tobacco companies eliminated these noxious substances altogether? Would cigarettes essentially be "less addictive?"
This premise is the very basis of the vaping phenomenon. E-liquids contain only five primary ingredients: nicotine, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavorings, and pure, old-fashioned water. Yet many opponents of smoking often confuse tobacco with nicotine, thereby intentionally or mistakenly lumping vaping into the same category as smoking.
A recent research study released by scientists at Vanderbilt University in Nashville addresses this issue head-on by questioning whether nicotine is an effective anti-depressant, particularly for older patients. There are reams of scientific research suggesting that quitting smoking helps boost mood, increase energy, and improve overall quality of life. But other research also seems to indicate that the consumption of nicotine without the excess toxins found in tobacco cigarettes can have similar positive effects on mental health. The Vanderbilt study attempts to build on this past research.
Overview of the Vanderbilt nicotine study
The study entitled Cognition as a Therapeutic Target in Late-Life Depression: Potential for nicotine therapeutics is published in Science Direct. The initial objective of co-authors Jason Gandelman, Paul Newhouse, and Warren Taylor was to determine if pure nicotine might fill a current void in effective antidepressant therapies for patients suffering from chronic, “late-life” depression.
“We propose that treatment of late-life depression may benefit from a cognitive enhancer targeting stimulation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, in addition to standard antidepressant medication. Little is known regarding nicotinic stimulation in depression generally and even less is known regarding such stimulation in elderly depressed patients on cognitive or mood outcomes. Studies are needed to understand how nicotine and agonists targeting nicotinic receptor subtypes affect neural activation patterns during rest and when processing cognitive tasks and emotional stimuli.”
According to the Vanderbilt team, symptoms of depression are exacerbated in older patients simply due to the normal aging processes of the brain. As a result, recovery can be more resistant to traditional medications. What the researchers discovered through the course of their study is that by stimulating areas of the brain where the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors are located, the conventional antidepressant drugs seemed to work much more effectively. However, the scientists also clearly state that more research is needed in this field of study.
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The Vanderbilt team is not the first to address the medical theory of nicotine therapies as an effective treatment for depression. As far back as the 1960s, scientists have known that smokers are less likely to develop the neurodegenerative brain disorder of Parkinson’s Disease. As late as 2008, lead author of the Vanderbilt study Dr. Newhouse published research indicating that nicotine replacement therapies like “the patch” can be useful in treating ADHD, even in non-smokers.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 16 million Americans suffer from some form of depression, and the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that this number may be as high as 350 people worldwide. If the Vanderbilt researchers are correct, vaping may be viewed in the future in a much more favorable light by professionals in the mental health industries.
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