Sex and Nicotine on the Brain

Posted 3rd March 2016 by Dave Cross
The research builds on evidence being amassed through the use of positron emission tomography (PET) scans. Looking at how the brain responds to nicotine use might one day lead to even better forms of quit methods. The latest study indicates that male and female brains respond in different ways to nicotine.

A previous study carried out by Matt Wall demonstrates how vaping can help with nicotine studies, although this one involved a magnetic resonance imaging technique. The benefits of such studies, while referring to his own neuron research, was illustrated by Olivier George: “If we can find a way to target those neurons in humans, maybe we can reduce the 'high' produced by the drug and reduce the withdrawal symptoms.”

Evan Morris is extending the work he carried out in 2014, working in Israel his students are developing dopamine movies illustrating how the brain responds to nicotine. The movies are compiled by adding individual images into a stream. As a smoker inhales nicotine a chemical called dopamine is released in the brain. How much dopamine, and where it is found, indicates the strength of the effect and what it impacts.

The report confirms: “Our main finding is that male smokers smoking in the PET scanner activate dopamine in the right ventral striatum during smoking but female smokers do not. This finding—men activating more ventrally than women—is consistent with the established notion that men smoke for the reinforcing drug effect of cigarettes whereas women smoke for other reasons, such as mood regulation and cue reactivity.”

Dopamine the body’s response to agreeable stimuli such as food, sex, or pleasurable events – and is also released when certain chemicals like nicotine excite the central nervous system.

“We are able to scan the brain’s reaction using a tracer that mimics dopamine. With our method, we are able to see how brains react to the chemically induced changes associated with addiction over time, creating a movie which shows the changes, and that is where we noticed how male and female brains differ when it comes to smoking,” said Morris.


It might go towards explaining why certain people find making the switch to vaping easier than others. Morris adds: “It could be, for example, that you need different kinds of nicotine patches designed for men and women, since they react differently to nicotine.”

The reason his research is being extended to Israel is that he is looking into monitoring the development of results in a new-to-cigarettes population. He aims to measure how the patterns change over time as individuals become more addicted to smoking.

 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, motorbikes, and dog walker