Vaping nicotine may help patients with mild cognitive impairment, says study

About eight out of ten patients suffering from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) go on to develop Alzheimer’s, but scientists now believe that vaping nicotine may help slow the disorder’s progression.  Approximately 15 to 20 percent of adults 65 or older have MCI, and diagnosing the disease is sometimes difficult.  Because MCI increases instances of memory loss and forgetfulness, many people automatically assume that this these symptoms are just part of the natural aging process.

Forgetting to make a phone call or misplacing car keys is one thing, but people suffering from MCI may forget to eat, go to the doctor, or take their medications which can lead to other medical issues down the line.  In many cases by the time they are diagnosed and seek treatment, they may be in the early stages of dementia – a precursor to Alzheimer’s Disease.  Scientists from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, are hoping that nicotine therapies may slow or even repair the brain damage caused by MCI.

The Vanderbilt nicotine study

While the FDA is currently considering new regulations that would place limits on nicotine levels in tobacco products and e-liquids used in vaping, scientists like those from Vanderbilt are well award of its many medicinal properties.  Nicotine is a natural alkaloid found in many plants, like potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant.  When it comes to the dangers of smoking, most scientists believe that nicotine is not the enemy.  It’s the tar and thousands of toxins infused inside combustible cigarettes that produce the carcinogenic risks.


Vanderbilt scientists have been conducting research on the potential health benefits of nicotine for MCI patients since the 1980s.  In a 1990 study, Dr. Paul Newhouse of the university’s Center for Cognitive Medicine conducted the nicotine therapy research using intravenous methods.  The intravenous nicotine is published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (NCBI) website. 

In 2012, his team published another study involving the use of transdermal nicotine treatments like ”the patch” to transfer the nicotine into MCI patients.  The 2012 study is entitled Nicotine treatment of mild cognitive impairment: a 6-month double-blind pilot clinical trial (NCBI). Some of its key findings include the following.

  • Approximately 70 MCI patients took part in the experiment (since this is a rather small sample group, the Vanderbilt research going on currently involves over 300 participants).
  • About half of the participants were asked to wear a transdermal patch for a period of about six months.
  • The other participants formed the control group and received no nicotine therapies.
  • Memory tests were conducted on both groups several times throughout the study.
  • Testing scores indicate an average gain of 46 percent in long-term memory functions for those involved with the transdermal therapies.
  • Meanwhile, the control group experienced an average decline in testing scores of 26 percent.
  • These findings are comparable to those of a Newhouse research from 1990 where patients received nicotine therapies intravenously as opposed to the patch.
“People think of [Nicotine] as a potentially noxious substance, but it’s a plant-derived medication just like a lot of other medications.” 
“I am convinced that we will find a way to help improve early memory loss and make a real difference in people’s lives. In this study, we have an inexpensive, widely available potential treatment.”
- Paul Newhouse, Director, Center for Cognitive Medicine at VUM

Dr. Newhouse has stated on many occasions that nicotine is a “fascinating drug with interesting properties.”  The Vanderbilt team is now in the middle of a more extensive study involving over 300 MCI patients age 55 or older.  The new two-year study is called MIND or Memory Improvement Through Nicotine Dosing.

The research will be more extensive than the preceding research in both number of participants and length of study.  If Dr. Newhouse is successful, then his research many be able to help millions of patients suffering from dementias, MCI, Alzheimer’s, and perhaps even memory disorders caused by traumatic events.

Related Article: Did you know that vaping is less addictive than FDA-approved NRTs? The FDA does.

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