An answer to Can you use harmful addictions to build good habits? points to an interesting article by Heishman et al. (2010) which points out that:

Short-term episodic memory-accuracy Analysis of the eight effect sizes indicated that nicotine produced a significant positive effect on accuracy in short-term recall tasks, g=0.44, z=3.19, p<0.01


Working memory-RT [Response Time] Analysis of the ten effect sizes indicated that nicotine produced a significant positive effect on RT in working memory, g=0.34, z=3.40, p<0.01

After listing other results of the meta-analysis, they also point out that (emphasis mine)

Difficulty concentrating is a valid symptom of nicotine withdrawal (APA 2000; Hughes 2007). Deficits in task performance, the related objective withdrawal sign, have been observed in the laboratory as soon as 30 min to 2 h after tobacco deprivation begins (Hendricks et al. 2006; Parrott et al. 1996); clinical reports of difficulty concentrating peak a few days after abstinence and can last for several weeks (Hughes 2007). Smoking can reverse withdrawal-induced performance deficits (Heishman et al. 1994) as can nicotine replacement and other medications when used during a quit attempt (Henningfield et al. 2009). For this reason, difficulty concentrating and consequent declines in performance are regarded as relapse factors in smokers trying to quit and as factors in the maintenance of smoking in those not attempting to quit. Evidence for these findings came from studying tobacco-deprived smokers (Heishman et al. 1994; Sherwood 1993); however, the focus of this meta-analysis was the effects of nicotine and smoking in nonsmokers and in smokers not experiencing withdrawal, which might have bearing on the initiation of smoking.

What I am finding hard to determine from this meta-analysis is whether memory is adversely affected after cessation of tobacco smoking.

With the fact that

The cognitive effects of nicotine are related to its activation of the prefrontal cortex, parietal cortex, thalamus, and hippocampus, areas known to be involved with attention and memory and that contain relatively high densities of nAChRs [Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors] (Brody 2006; Levin et al. 2006; Azizian et al. 2009).

Are these areas adversely affected after cessation or is the accuracy of short-term episodic memory and RT of working memory returned to the same levels as someone who has never smoked?


Heishman, S. J., Kleykamp, B. A., & Singleton, E. G. (2010). Meta-analysis of the acute effects of nicotine and smoking on human performance. Psychopharmacology, 210(4), 453-469. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-010-1848-1



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