Biohacking: My Experiments with Nicotine

Creativity is messy. The mechanisms within our brains that induce it are still little understood. Yet it's all chemistry.

Biohacking: My Experiments with Nicotine

The questions you ask determine the results and the achievements you get in your life.

Following this philosophy, a few months ago, I started to question what contributes to productivity, creativity, and tolerance to stress.

Isn't that what you, my reader, would want as well?

My search brought me to the discovery of two books:

That's how I learned about nootropics – psychoactive drugs, chemical substances that elevate mental performance in one way or another.

There is a whole world of nootropics with effects ranging from increased focus and attention to improved memory and creativity. If you've drunk coffee, you've also benefitted from caffeine, one of the most freely available nootropics.

Caffeine affects our brains by blocking out adenosine – a "tiredness" hormone that our bodies produce. Paired with L-theanine, an amino acid that occurs naturally in green and black tea, caffeine can deliver a calm state of focus and alertness. However, that's another story.

Today I want to talk about another nootropic called nicotine.

Nicotine has got a negative association due to its connection with smoking. Extensive research has proven that smoking tobacco has got a detrimental effect on a human's health. Hence the tobacco companies are forced to put truly horrible pictures on the cigarette packs (the effectiveness of which is quite questionable).

However, it is not nicotine but the poisons from the tar in the cigarettes and the carbon monoxide that cause a wide range of negative consequences on a human's heart, brain and lungs.

In its pure form, nicotine is a remarkable nootropic. Consumed in micro-doses of 1‑2 mg, 1‑4 times a day, it can produce a noticeable effect on mental performance.

The European Commission's Scientific Committee put it this way:

"In the brain, nicotine is clearly a stimulant at low doses. It produces a pattern of alertness in the electroencephalogram (EEG), mediates fast synaptic transmission, and positively modulates a range of cognitive functions. As a result, it improves attention, learning, arousal, motor skill, facilitates memory functions and decreases irritability and anxiety, among other central nervous system (CNS) functions (Balfour and Fagerström 1996, Benowitz 2008, Fattinger et al. 1997, Grybko et al. 2010)."

How does this sound?

Wooden desk with a typewriter, and open blank notebook and a few other items that, perhaps, induce creativity.
Photo by Dustin Lee / Unsplash

I'm sitting at my desk with a blank page opened on my MacBook. After spraying Nicorette under my tongue, in 10-20 seconds, my attention on the screen becomes so focused that the background and the surroundings dissolve.

My fingertips start typing, as if by themselves. The thoughts that have been roaming in my head are now flowing freely in an orderly fashion. The effect lasts for approximately 5‑10 minutes, but as you would probably agree - starting to write an article or the first slide of a presentation are the most challenging parts. Once the opening sentences are out, it gets much more comfortable. Nicotine has been helping me tremendously with this initial block.

My experiments with taking a dose of nicotine before a meeting with my colleagues and just before giving a talk on stage did not turn out to be as successful. While I experienced the same lightness and fluidity in my speech, they weren't as helpful as in writing, though I'm yet to experiment a bit more under such circumstances.

It's worth pointing out that such effect of nicotine is achieved only in the micro-doses of 1‑2 mg.

Once, when I almost entirely depleted my Nicorette spray, I pushed it perhaps ten times, aiming to get the remaining drops out of it. About 15 minutes later, I started to feel myself on the brink of passing out. It was the very first time I experienced something like that. I can relate to what I read in various research papers: nausea, dizziness and the loss of orientation in space and time. Fortunately, about half-an-hour later, such effects passed away, and I was back to normal. Though I learned a lesson: self-regulation and discipline are crucial when experimenting with nootropics.

Nicotine is also known to develop tolerance and addiction. I cannot say whether I've developed an addiction to nicotine using the Nicorette spray. In the end, I use it only when I feel myself stuck on a problem or when writing something and only when I see the Nicorette spray lying on my desk. I don't crave for it, and I can easily let go of the desire to take a dose of nicotine. European Commission also concludes that "the addictiveness of nicotine is not directly linear with the dose" and "the mechanisms of addiction are still poorly understood".

However, what I did notice is the developed tolerance to nicotine. If in the early days of my experiments I achieved the desired level of lightness in my head with just one spray – 1 mg of nicotine, after a few months of such occasional use, I now need two-three sprays to experience the same effect without negative consequences I mentioned earlier.

As a result, I've now decided to get by without nicotine for at least a month. Right now, I'm writing this article under the effect of the last few drops from the spray. I will only crave for a dose when I am working on something like a presentation or another article.

I hope that after some time without nicotine, my body's tolerance to this chemical will return to normal levels, and I will resume the consumption of it. In the end, why would I not want to have an edge as I pursue my goals?

Should you decide to experiment with nootropics, I urge you to do thorough research, weight the risk of your actions and consult with your doctor if necessary.

This world is an incredible place to live, and there's so much to learn about it.

The questions you ask in your life and the search for the answers will lead you to achieve whatever goals you set for yourself.

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