Nicotine, the Perfect Psychotropic? Dr. Paul Newhouse # 494

Nicotine and your brain! Don’t worry, we aren’t talking about cigarettes.

Today’s guest on Bulletproof Radio is Dr. Paul Newhouse. Dr. Newhouse has a broad background in human cognitive medicine and neuroscience and has 40 years of studying cognitive models in humans under his belt. He has spent a lot of that time studying nicotine’s effects on the brain.

He’s the director of the Vanderbilt Center for Cognitive Medicine in the department of Psychiatry and behavioral science at Vanderbilt.

Dave Asprey and Dr. Newhouse get into how cognition works and how specific receptors are important for things like Alzheimer’s Disease or ADHD.

Enjoy the show!

Listen to the episode on itunes

Follow Along with the Transcript

Nicotine, the Perfect Psychotropic? Dr. Paul Newhouse # 494

Links/Resources for Dr. Paul Newhouse

• Twitter: 
• Website: 
• Vanderbilt Kennedy Center: 
• National Institute on Aging: 

Show Notes

  • “What got you so interested, especially 40 years ago when this was, I think humans have always thought about what’s going on in there, even going back to the ancient Greeks but what peaked your interest and has kept you engaged in this field of study for so long?” -Dave
  • “I got fascinated with the idea that we could use the tools of cognitive science, of biology to understand what the mechanisms were that were going on in the brain, what goes wrong and then how we could probe that system to develop new treatments and new approaches to enhancing cognitive functions and the quality of people’s lives.” -Dr. Newhouse
  • “It’s changed a lot. A lot of the drugs, maybe some of the ones that you’ve worked on, things that were designed for Alzheimer’s or a specific diseases are now being at least considered as cognitive enhancing agents in healthy brains. Does that scare the heck out of you or are you happy to see that?” -Dave
  • On being “normal. “Now yes, if you knock someone’s performance down, you can use drugs to bring that back up again but to improve performance from a normal baseline has proven to be very, very difficult and in fact, most of the drugs that we’ve studied as cognitive enhancers, actually show that in normals, they tend to impair performance as much as anything.” -Dr. Newhouse
  • More activity is not always better… “What I’m trying to say, I’m sorry I’m going on about this but it’s really just not just a linear construct. You can’t say, “Oh, I need to increase the activity of these areas of my brain,” it may actually be better for you if you decrease.” -Dr. Newhouse
  • “There are subcellular networks at the level of mitochondria there are very intense relationships within cells and that’s of course the focus of a huge amount of medical research is to understand molecular and cellular mechanisms.” -Dr. Newhouse
  • Dave on knowing Dr. Newhouse’s research. “I do owe you a thanks because back in 1988, you were the first person to propose augmenting the nicotinic system to treat Alzheimer’s disease and I’ve come across a few of your papers and I’m a relatively outspoken fan of nicotine as apart from tobacco and smoking, which have clear risks, but nicotine as a purified agent seems to be a really potent cognitive enhancer for at least a set of people, including me and probably even has some health benefits, depending on which benefits you’re looking at even though there might be other counteracting things.”
  • What nicotinic receptors do is they act like gain enhancers. The modulate the gain of a particular neurochemical event. If you stimulate a nicotinic receptor that’s sitting pre-synaptically or sort of in the end of an axon and you get more bang for your buck when a signal comes along. -Dr. Newhouse
  • Nicotine and ADHD. “We began to look into what were the potential effects, neural effects of nicotine on cognitive processing in ADHD. We knew that amphetamines for example were used, they helped … stimulants helped patients with ADHD and what we found by actually taking this into the lab was that there was a cognitive process of what we call behavioral inhibition that nicotine really seems to help in these patients. In other words, it kind of slows down their brain a little bit and reduces impulsive responding in the lab. What we showed in a paper some years ago was that you could actually use this lab measure to predict how effective a nicotinic treatment might be in a real world test.”



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