6.4Pharmacological effects

Last updated: January 2018

Suggested citation: Christensen, D. 6.4 Pharmacological effects. In Scollo, MM and Winstanley, MH [editors]. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2018. Available from http://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-6-addiction/6-4-pharmacological-effects

Nicotine receptors are located both in the central nervous systems (i.e., nerve cells within the brain and spinal cord) and in the peripheral nervous system (i.e., nerves and nerve clusters or groups of nerve cell bodies outside the brain and spinal cord). Within the central nervous system nicotine receptors are widely distributed, including nerve cells that release other neurotransmitters including dopamine, acetylcholine, and glutamate.1  

The pleasurable effects of nicotine are thought to be related to dopamine release throughout structures in the brain that are associated with the experience of pleasure. These include the ventral tegmental area, the nucelus accumbens, and cognitive areas such as the forebrain.1, 2 Also, nicotine consumption is related to other dopamine pathways involved in rewarding experiences (such as the nigrostriatal pathway connecting the substantia nigra pas compacta to the dorsal striatum).3   


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1. Advocat C, Comaty J, and Julien R, Julien’s primer of drug action.  13 edNew York: Worth Publishers; 2014. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/nlmcatalog/101666863.

2. McKim W and Hancock S, Drugs and behaviour: An introduction to behavioural pharamacology.  7 edNew York: Pearson; 2013.

3. Barret S, Bolieau I, Okker J, Pihl R, and Dagher A. The hedonic response to cigarette smoking is proportional to dopamine release in the human striatum as measured by positron emission tomography and [11c] raclopride. Synapse, 2004; 54:65–71. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15352131