, Volume 184, Issue 3-4, pp 367-381
Date: 05 Oct 2005

Nicotine as a typical drug of abuse in experimental animals and humans

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Abstract

Rationale and background

Tobacco use through cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the developed world. Nicotine, a psychoactive component of tobacco, appears to play a major role in tobacco dependence, but reinforcing effects of nicotine often are difficult to demonstrate directly in controlled laboratory studies with animal or human subjects.

Objective

To review the major findings obtained with various procedures developed to study dependence-related behavioral effects of nicotine in experimental animals and humans, i.e., drug self-administration, conditioned place preference, subjective reports of nicotine effects and nicotine discrimination, withdrawal signs, and ratings of drug withdrawal.

Results

Nicotine can function as an effective reinforcer of drug-seeking and drug-taking behavior both in experimental animals and humans under appropriate conditions. Interruption of chronic nicotine exposure produces withdrawal symptoms that may contribute to relapse. Difficulties encountered in demonstrating reinforcing effects of nicotine under some conditions, relative to other drugs of abuse, may be due to weaker primary reinforcing effects of nicotine or to a more critical contribution of environmental stimuli to the maintenance of drug-seeking and drug-taking behavior with nicotine than with other drugs of abuse. Further experiments are also needed to delineate the role other chemical substances inhaled along with nicotine in tobacco smoke play in sustaining smoking behavior.

Conclusion

Nicotine acts as a typical drug of abuse in experimental animals and humans.