, Volume 233, Issue 12, pp 2309–2317 | Cite as

Threshold dose for discrimination of nicotine via cigarette smoking

  • Kenneth A. Perkins
  • Nicole Kunkle
  • Joshua L. Karelitz
  • Valerie C. Michael
  • Eric C. Donny
Original Investigation



The lowest nicotine threshold “dose” in cigarettes discriminated from a cigarette containing virtually no nicotine may help inform the minimum dose maintaining dependence.


Spectrum research cigarettes (from NIDA) differing in nicotine content were used to evaluate a procedure to determine discrimination thresholds.


Dependent smokers (n = 18; 13 M, 5 F) were tested on ability to discriminate cigarettes with nicotine contents of 11, 5, 2.4, and 1.3 mg/g, one per session, from the “ultralow” cigarette with 0.4 mg/g, after having discriminated 16 mg/g from 0.4 mg/g (all had 9–10 mg “tar”). Exposure to each was limited to 4 puffs/trial. All subjects were abstinent from smoking overnight prior to each session, and the number of sessions was determined by the participant’s success in discrimination behavior on >80 % of trials. Subjective perceptions and behavioral choice between cigarettes were also assessed and related to discrimination behavior.


The median threshold was 11 mg/g, but the range was 2.4 to 16 mg/g, suggesting wide variability in discrimination threshold. Compared to the ultralow, puff choice was greater for the subject’s threshold dose but only marginal for the subthreshold (next lowest nicotine) cigarette. Threshold and subthreshold also differed on subjective perceptions but not withdrawal relief.


Under these testing conditions, threshold content for discriminating nicotine via cigarettes may be 11 mg/g or greater for most smokers, but some can discriminate nicotine contents one-half or one-quarter this amount. Further study with other procedures and cigarette exposure amounts may identify systematic differences in nicotine discrimination thresholds.


Nicotine Discrimination Cigarette smoking Threshold Choice Subjective effects 



Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Food and Drug Administration Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) (U54 DA031659). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH or the Food and Drug Administration.

Compliance with ethical standard

Conflict of interests

No authors have any potential conflicts of interest to report.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kenneth A. Perkins
    • 1
  • Nicole Kunkle
    • 1
  • Joshua L. Karelitz
    • 1
  • Valerie C. Michael
    • 1
  • Eric C. Donny
    • 2
  1. 1.Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh School of MedicinePittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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