How to improve your brain with nicotine (not smoking)


Most people hear the word caffeine and immediately think of coffee, even though coffee has 1000 compounds in it that are not caffeine. The same thing is true of nicotine – you say the word, and before you can even think about it, images of smoking and cancer in your mind. But like coffee, tobacco has all sorts of crap in it besides nicotine – about 5000 other chemicals, including the carcinogens and toxins that give you lung disease and organ damage. Plus, smoking smells bad. Gross.

That “gross!” effect is why people, including many scientists, have largely ignored nicotine’s differences when it is purified from tobacco. However, a few scientists have been studying the various effects of nicotine separated from tobacco for several decades, with results that highlight why it is such a unique psychotropic.

One thing that’s clear: you don’t need to smoke cigarettes to strategically use nicotine, whether for short term performance, or long term aging. Ann McNeil, a professor of tobacco addiction and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience at King’s College London, who spent her career researching ways to help people quit smoking, put it this way: “we need to de-demonize nicotine.” [1]

So what are the benefits of Nicotine?

As a reasonably successful author with six books under my belt, including three New York Times bestsellers, I have studied the art of authorship. A huge number of great works of literature, if not all of them, came from people using cognitive-enhancing compounds. Coffee is almost always there. Nicotine has been a standard tool for writing for centuries. A smaller subset of authors has used alcohol and cannabis, although not nearly as many. Because I have a brain, I am not going to start smoking, and I never have. But I use nicotine in low doses, especially when I write or am on camera. Here are some of the reasons.

A vast body of research today suggests that nicotine can enhance several dimensions of human performance, including coordination, vigilance, memory, and reaction time. A recent meta-analysis of 41 double-blind, placebo-controlled studies found significant effects of nicotine on motor abilities, attention, and memory[2]

Read that again. Nicotine is a nootropic. It is a cognitive enhancing substance.

Caffeine lasts for 5-6 hours, but nicotine only lasts 1-2 hours (half-life). This means that you can use nicotine later in the day without negatively impacting your sleep, for the simple reason that it clears out of your system more quickly.

What about addiction?

Nicotine hits your dopamine receptors, but the speed that it hits is a primary driver of how addictive it is. Smoking cigarettes and vaping are highly addictive because they are the most efficient way of delivering high amounts of nicotine straight into the brain rapidly[3]. This ‘express delivery’ that’s even faster than an intravenous injection mediates a strong dopamine response that increases the potential for addiction. Plus, there are two flavoring agents in vapes and cigarettes that drive addiction far more than nicotine alone.

Studies show that nicotine alone has a 3 day physiological addiction period, just like caffeine. Cigarettes and vapes on the other hand are far harder to quit because of additives. I have easily stopped using nicotine for months at a time to test this! It’s just that nicotine is part of my cognitive function and anti-aging strategy, so I use limited doses of it. For more details on nicotine’s benefits and the real downsides, read my earlier science blog post here, or better yet, listen to the full podcast with a Vanderbilt University scientist who studied nicotine for 30 years, who I call Dr. Nicotine. He believes nicotine is a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

The best way to use nicotine is…

While e-cigarettes let vapers inhale nicotine without all the toxins typically present in tobacco smoke, e-liquids can still contain chemicals, such as acetals, aldehydes, and heavy metals, that are not safe when inhaled. Most also contain flavoring agents that are addictive. Furthermore, the health effects of inhalation are unknown over long periods of time, and since this form of nicotine delivery has only been around for a few years, we won’t know these long-term effects for quite some time. Plus, there’s the speed of it hitting your brain, which is at least as fast as cigarettes. Emerging evidence indicates that the lung has its own microbiome, and smoking disrupts it.

However, nicotine when consumed orally has the advantage of avoiding the interaction between any chemicals present in the product and the lungs. I’ve tried every non-smoking nicotine delivery method out there, and have found oral nicotine (not tobacco) to be the best way to consume nicotine to experience performance-enhancing effects, as long as I can avoid artificial sweeteners, which have no place in a product I’m taking to promote brain function. They do the opposite!

What types of oral nicotine are out there?

The vast majority of oral nicotine products out there fall under the category of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), which is a term for old fashioned nicotine gums you would find in drug stores. NRT gums are pharmaceuticals designed to help relieve the withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting smoking. These products are not intended for people to dose them for longer than 12 weeks, and they definitely aren’t meant to taste or feel great. NRT gums universally use bad sweeteners too.

In fact, when Big Pharma designers first made NRT products, the goal was to make the product taste mediocre because people were only going to use it for less than 12 weeks. Aside from nicotine, old fashioned NRT products often contain ingredients such as polyvinyl acetate, polyethylene, Black Iron Oxide, and sweeteners like aspartame that drive hunger cravings and shred your gut microbiome. Not ok.

Because I care about clean ingredients first, then how I feel, and then how things taste, my favorite way to get a low dose, tobacco-free nicotine is something called LUCY Chew and Park. LUCY Chew and Park is not an NRT and is designed to be a cleaner oral nicotine alternative to other forms of tobacco–like cigarettes, vapes, and smokeless tobacco–for people who want to experience the effects of nicotine on a regular basis.

All of the flavors I’ve tried (coming in Cinnamon, Wintergreen, and Pomegranate) taste great. Each piece releases 4 mg of nicotine, which is strong enough for a release, without being overpowering, so you get a nice sustained feeling for 30 min to an hour without any crash. The product contains no sugar or aspartame, just the pure nicotine, and food-grade ingredients.

Plus, you won’t look like an uneducated dolt smacking your gum. That’s because you use it differently from chewing gum, in that once you chew it a few times, you park it in between your gum and cheek to help the nicotine absorb. You basically regulate the amount of nicotine released: the more you chew in between parking, the more nicotine that gets released. This also helps spare your jaw muscles since you don’t end up chewing as much. If you don’t like to chew at all, they also make mini lozenges, which dissolve under your tongue to release nicotine even faster, which wakes you up and gets you to focus quickly.

If you want to give Lucy a try, use code DAVE20 for 20% off all Lucy products.

The future is clean nicotine

How would we feel about caffeine if we could only get it from smoking rolled up coffee grounds instead of drinking delicious coffee? Unfortunately, that is the way we have always consumed nicotine, and an extraordinary number of people paid the ultimate price.

But the behaviors around smoking have evolved drastically over the past decade. Many smokers have switched to vaping, and more recently, oral nicotine products. It’s because we all know that smoking is a hellish habit, but there are also documented benefits from nicotine, ones that smokers appreciate and don’t want to abandon.

At this point, it’s a good bet that oral nicotine products, like clean gums and lozenges, will only increase in popularity, because they allow people to enjoy the effects of nicotine without having to inhale things. The time has come to be level headed in our research and our thinking. Caffeine is not the same as coffee. Nicotine is not the same as tobacco. Both have their ethical uses, and both can be misused.

My experience is that low dose, oral nicotine has brought immeasurable benefit to my writing, my public speaking, and even my mitochondria because it mimics exercise (through PGC1-alpha, but that’s a topic for another post!)

You can get addicted to nicotine in any form. Overdosing nicotine is not good for you. Low dose, occasional use of pure nicotine without bad additives is a very different scenario than smoking a pack a day. Separate the ideas in your mental model and then decide if it’s something you want to experience. I love how my brain works on Bulletproof Coffee followed by a few chews of Lucy, and think you may also.

If you want to give Lucy a try, use code DAVE20 for 20% off all Lucy products.

(full disclosure – I sometimes advise the founders of, or make small investments in, the companies doing great work to make things I can’t buy elsewhere. I am an investor and advisor in LUCY because I wanted a clean source of nicotine!)





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