As far as the brain's craving for nicotine is concerned, a person's perception that the cigarette contains nicotine has a key role to play, reports a research from the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas in Dallas. Smokers only feel satisfaction when they believe the cigarette they are smoking contains nicotine, if not even the nicotine cigarettes have no effect on their brain.
Smoking Addiction Double Blind Experiment
For the study, the researchers included 24 nicotine addicts in four different experiments conducted on different occasions. In the double blind study, the participants were given real cigarettes with nicotine twice and fake placebo cigarettes twice.
The participants were first given a placebo cigarette, but were told that it was a real one. On the second visit they were given a real cigarette, but were informed that they were smoking a fake cigarette. The participants then received a real cigarette, knowing that it was a real one on their third visit, and finally they were given a placebo cigarette and was informed that it's a fake one.
The investigators used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor the neural activity in the insula cortex of the participants. Insula cortex is the region of the brain that controls certain functions of a person including self-awareness and perceptions. This region plays an important role in issues like drug addiction and craving.
The participants were subjected to fMRI every time after smoking the cigarette and were also asked to complete a reward learning task. The subjects were also asked to rate their nicotine craving levels before and after every experiment.
Nicotine Perception At Play
The fMRI showed significant neural activity when the participants smoked real cigarettes knowing that it contained nicotine. The fMRI results also correlated with both craving and learning signals during the task.
However, the participants did not have the same neural activity in the brain when they smoked real cigarette believing that it was a fake one. The study outcome supports several previous findings that said beliefs have a role to play in the effect of drugs on issues like craving and addiction.
"We expected the presence of nicotine to show some sort of craving response compared to conditions where the subjects did not receive nicotine despite the belief about the nicotine given, but that was not what we found," said Read Montague, the study's co-author and director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and the Computational Psychiatry Unit at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.
The study is published online in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.