Nicotine reinforcement in never-smokers

Angela N. Duke, Matthew W. Johnson, Chad J. Reissig, Roland R. Griffiths

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rationale: Global tobacco-related mortality dwarfs that of all other drugs. Nicotine is believed to be the primary agent responsible for tobacco use and addiction. However, nicotine is a relatively weak and inconsistent reinforcer in nonhumans and nicotine reinforcement has not been demonstrated in never-smokers. Objectives: This study investigated the discriminative, subjective, and reinforcing effects of nicotine in never-smokers. Methods: Eighteen never-smokers (<50 lifetime nicotine exposures) participated in a double-blind study. During a drug discrimination phase, volunteers ingested oral nicotine and placebo capsules (quasi-random order) at least 2 h apart and rated subjective effects repeatedly for 2 h after ingestion in daily sessions. Blocks of 10 sessions were continued until significant discrimination was achieved (p∈≥0.05, binomial test; ≤8 of 10). Following discrimination, nicotine choice was tested by having volunteers choose which capsule set to ingest on each daily session. Successive blocks of 10 sessions were conducted until choice for nicotine or placebo met significance within each volunteer (≤8 of 10 sessions). Results: All 18 volunteers significantly discriminated nicotine from placebo; the lowest dose discriminated ranged from 1.0 to 4.0 mg/70 kg. Nine volunteers significantly chose nicotine (choosers) and nine significantly chose placebo (nicotine avoiders). The choosers reported predominately positive nicotine subjective effects (e.g., alert/attentive, good effects, liking), while avoiders tended to report negative effects (e.g., dizzy, upset stomach, disliking). Both choosers and avoiders attributed their choice to the qualitative nature of drug effects. Conclusions: These results provide the first evidence that nicotine can function as a reinforcer in some never-smokers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4243-4252
Number of pages10
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Drug discrimination
  • Never-smoker
  • Nicotine
  • Oral
  • Reinforcement
  • Self-administration
  • Subjective effects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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