Dr. Paul Newhouse has been researching nicotine for over 30 years. He’s been doing this since long before nicotine became one of the most controversial and feared substances on the planet, and he continues despite the frenzied backlash from tobacco control organizations in the vaping era.
I first learned about his work when I came across a quote attributed to him online. It read: “In some ways I think of nicotine as the perfect psychotropic drug. The nicotine receptors in the brain act as modulators, scanning the system and stimulating what needs to be stimulated and relaxing what needs to be relaxed. That’s why you have a smoker who uses a cigarette to wake up and to go to sleep.”
I was instantly a fan, because Newhouse was talking about the benefits of nicotine—something most researchers rarely do, in a world fixated on demonizing vapes and other tobacco harm reduction options. His words also reflected what many people who smoke had told me in the course of my tobacco harm reduction work.
Newhouse is the director of the Center for Cognitive Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
His research is critically important to transforming perceptions of nicotine from a “dirty” drug to one that can actually improve the lives of millions.
Currently, his MIND (Memory Improvement through Nicotine Dosing) study is testing whether nicotine can improve memory and functioning in people diagnosed with mild memory loss or cognitive impairment. The largest and the longest-running study of its kind, its results have already shown improvement in attention and memory with no serious side effects.
Newhouse is also studying the effects of nicotine among people with late-life depression, and whether it can improve memory in patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. His latest research project will investigate the use of nicotine to treat long COVID.
At the Global Forum on Nicotine in Warsaw, Poland, this year, I finally got to meet Newhouse and interview him. He spoke on the panel “The Changing Face of Nicotine,” and gave a keynote address, “The Role of Nicotinic Systems in Brain Disorders.”
In the video above, he tells me more about the complex and varied mechanisms of this important drug—and effects that for some people include boosting attention, relaxation, and relieving anxiety and distress.
Newhouse’s knowledge of nicotine is staggering. And his research projects over three decades are critically important to transforming perceptions of nicotine from a “dirty” drug to one that can actually improve the lives of millions of people.