Does Lowering Nicotine Doses In Cigarettes Help Smokers With Mental Health Conditions Quit?

According to the American Cancer Society, the use of tobacco is the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S. and contributes to nearly 1 in 5 deaths annually. Smoking tobacco is linked to the development of numerous chronic health conditions like cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. There are other side effects of smoking. Healthline says that smoking can make you irritable, cause your hair and clothes to smell, suppress your appetite, and even cause your fingernails to yellow. While quitting smoking may seem like an obvious choice, it is not an easy one to make.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists several reasons why quitting smoking is difficult. The two main factors that make smoking difficult to quit revolve around how nicotine affects the brain, and how the habit of smoking makes it hard to stop. Nicotine is an addictive substance that can alter your brain's functionality. When you stop smoking, you may experience nicotine withdrawals — which can motivate you to smoke again. When you smoke habitually, you may have daily activities that you associate with smoking. It can be hard to do simple things without smoking simply because you are used to doing things that way. Now, researchers are exploring how lowering levels of nicotine may help smokers with mental health conditions quit. Here's everything you need to know.

Can less nicotine in cigarettes help depressed, anxious smokers quit?

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently revealed plans to propose a rule that would effectively limit the addictiveness of cigarettes by setting a maximum limit on the amount of nicotine in them. A recent study conducted by researchers from the Penn State College of Medicine and Harvard Medical School set out to see how lowering nicotine levels in cigarettes affects the cessation of smoking, or quitting (per Penn State University).

According to the 2022 study published in the journal PLOS One, the researchers reduced the nicotine dose in the cigarettes every three weeks over the course of 18 weeks from 11.6 milligrams per cigarette to 0.2 milligrams per cigarette. The smokers in the reduced-nicotine cigarette group were given 0.2-milligram cigarettes for the last six weeks of the study. 

Lowering the amount of nicotine not only reduced the exposure to toxins but also helped smokers with mental health conditions related to mood or anxiety to quit smoking without making their mental health symptoms worse.  The study's lead author Jonathan Foulds told Neuroscience News that people with mental health conditions who smoke may be at higher risk of experiencing extreme withdrawal symptoms from nicotine, which can make it harder to quit.