Researchers Study Vapers' Brains to Learn About Smoking Addiction

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Researchers Study Vapers' Brains to Learn About Smoking Addiction

By Victoria Kim 11/18/14

Unlike traditional cigarettes, vaping has allowed researchers to study the "behavioral and sensory repertoire" of smoking with every puff.

Image: 
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Studying the brain of someone puffing on an e-cigarette, or “vaping,” may bring us closer to understanding smoking addiction.

A small pilot study did just that, revealing interesting activity in brain areas linked to reward and addiction, and in areas involved in perception of taste and smell, according to Matt Wall, study leader and imaging scientist at Imperial College London.


“E-cigarettes…provide a very good simulation of traditional smoking [and] we have shown that using e-cigarettes with fMRI is an excellent paradigm for direct evaluation of the effects of smoking on human neurophysiology,” said Wall.

The benefit of studying the brains of people smoking e-cigarettes is to study the brain effects of what Wall called the behavioral and sensory repertoire of smoking. The vaping devices allow researchers to monitor these effects, which until now were impossible to monitor while burning conventional cigarettes in the confined space of an MRI scanner.

E-cigarettes make it possible to record brain activity with each puff. Wall noted that the limited success of other forms of nicotine replacement therapy, like patches or gum, suggests that smokers are hooked on more than just nicotine.

“There’s something unique about the drug [nicotine] and the delivery system—the smoking—combined which makes it really, really addictive,” Wall said.

The next step is to conduct larger studies, as the pilot study was not large enough to draw any firm conclusions. A similar study in Australia, which started this year, will follow nicotine users over the next five years to determine whether an individual’s neural makeup can determine if they will become addicted to nicotine.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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