I am reading the Pavlov's dog experiments, from it I learn that associating a dopamine high event with a neutral event will lead to later that neutral event triggering the same receptors in absence of the dopamine high event. I thought about this and wondered... what if I started doing some harmful addictions like cigarettes and smokes before studying something I may not be interested in... does this mean I would later associate studying with the kicks of these two harmful habits?

P.S: I am not saying to do these illicit substances in excess, just a mild amount where your brain can still function.

The above was the motivation, now is the real question: Has there been human trials based on this principle using illicit substances to train the mind in a positive way? Was it succesful..?

  • $\begingroup$ I heard recently on the Huberman Lab Podcast that there are some counterintuitive ways in which dopamine influences motivation. I recommend it, if you have the time. $\endgroup$
    – Galen
    May 3, 2022 at 4:12

1 Answer 1


Although smoking is highly addictive and should never be started just because you feel like it enables you to learn something you are not particularly interested in Heishman et al. (2010) note that:

The significant effects of nicotine on motor abilities, attention, and memory likely represent true performance enhancement because they are not confounded by withdrawal relief. The beneficial cognitive effects of nicotine have implications for initiation of smoking and maintenance of tobacco dependence.

Note that tobacco smoking is not only addictive because of nicotine, but also because tobacco smoke contains potent MAO inhibitors which are speculated to potentiate the effects of nicotine. Berlin & Anthenelli (2001) note that:

We examine the hypothesis that chronic habitual smoking can be better understood in the context of two pharmacological factors : nicotine and reduced MAO activity. We speculate that MAO inhibition by compounds found in either tobacco or tobacco smoke can potentiate nicotine’s effects

Thus if you want to try nicotine your last choice should be smoking. There is snus or buy nicotine gum. Also consider talking to a professional so (s)he can recommend medication like methylphenidad or similar medication.

Let me give you another suggestion to start micro-dosing caffeine (-powder). Sholey et al. (2008) note that:

Cognitive performance, mood, autonomic activity and salivary caffeine were assessed pre-dose and at 1, 3, 6 and 9 h post-dose. Compared with placebo, performance was impaired by 2.5 mg, whilst 5 mg had negative effects on mood and mixed effects on performance and 10 mg improved performance.

Another paper about microdosing caffeine reports:

This study measured the effects of 0, 12.5, 25, 50 and 100 mg caffeine on cognitive performance, mood and thirst in adults with low and moderate to high habitual caffeine intakes.Effects on performance and mood confirmed a psychostimulant action of caffeine. All doses of caffeine significantly affected cognitive performance, and the dose-response relationships for these effects were rather flat. Rogers & Smit (2000): Effects of low doses of caffeine on cognitive performance, mood and thirst in low and higher caffeine consumers

The effects of caffeine can be enhanced by L-theanin as found in tea (camellia sinensis). A meta-analysis of the combined effects of caffeine and L-theanin notes that:

Evidence of moderate effect sizes in favor of combined caffeine and L-theanine in the first 2 hours postdose were found for outcome measures Bond-Lader alertness, attentional switching accuracy, and, to a lesser extent, some unisensory and multisensory attentional outcomes. Moderator analysis of caffeine and L-theanine doses revealed trends toward greater change in effect size for caffeine dose than for L-theanine dose, particularly during the first hour post dose. Camfield et al. 2014

Also note that what you describe in the first paragraph is very likely to happen: You will find it increasingly harder to study a subject you do not particularly like without the help of chemical helpers. This does not necessarily have to be detrimental. The very prolific mathematician Erdös used amphetamines for a significant proportion of his life. Just be warned that smoking tobacco might be the most detrimental chemical aid...


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