While toxic, the addictive compound nicotine found in tobacco smoke may promise to treat many of the most debilitating symptoms of the mental illness schizophrenia  (Source: AOL Living)
Smoking is still a very dangerous way to get the chemical, though

Smoking may cause cancer and brain damage -- and even damage electronics -- but one of the primary chemicals in cigarette smoke, nicotine, holds promise in improving the lives of those with the mental illness schizophrenia, according to a new medical study.  Nicotine is a stimulant, similar to caffeine, but more potent.  It is also a procarcinogen, as the liver converts it in small quantities to carcinogenic derivatives.

The new study, led by Ruth Barr, a psychiatrist at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, looked at the effects of nicotine on patients' cognitive function, such as planning and memory in social and work settings.  According to Dr. Barr, improvement cognitive function is the most critical need for those suffering from the disease.  She states, "We know that patients that do better in the long term are those with good cognitive function rather than improvement in any other symptom."

Prior to the study only beneficial effects of nicotine being used to overcome smoking withdrawal symptoms were used.  The new study, involved dosing the patients with nicotine.  Describes Dr. Barr, "(W)e would ask participants to go without a cigarette for 12 hours and then provide a single dose of nicotine and measure cognitive function."

Intriguingly rather than just showing less symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, patients also showed improvement in brain function, including less impulsive behaviour and better levels of attention, both of which are unrelated to nicotine withdrawal.  Dr. Barr says more research is needed, stating, "We don't yet know whether these effects persist or not and if those improvements have any impact on daily life, for example, remembering shopping lists or conversations."

A nicotine based patch or nasal spray could be used as a treatment.  States Mohammed Shoaib, a psychopharmacologist from the University of Newcastle, not associated with the study, "Now, the rationale is to provide a more strategic treatment in the form of a skin patch or nasal spray to avoid the toxins in cigarette smoke. This is the way to go."

Cigarette smoking lowers life expectancy by approximately 10 years, due to it increasing the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and brain damage.  Nicotine is highly addictive, and, as mentioned, is a procarcinogen.  One possibility is to develop schizophrenia drugs derived from nicotine -- so called "nicotine agonists" -- which would bind to the same brain receptors (and have the same effect), but would not be converted by the liver into carcinogens.

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