16 things you didn’t know about the ultimate creativity smart drug

Jonathan Roseland
18 min readNov 27, 2023

Nicotine is the secret weapon of elite Biohackers for instant creativity, concentration, and verbal horsepower.

It’s a not low-risk, fast-burning, and highly addictive Nootropic that should be used sparingly, but for many high-performers, its significant upsides are well worth its downsides.

This article is mostly going to focus on decoding what the human studies are saying about Nicotine and how this squares up with the anecdotal experiences of Biohackers online.

The Creativity Drug

Nicotine is the original creativity drug, but don’t take my word for it…

The fact that some of the greatest writers and novelists were voracious smokers should inspire you to take on a creative project if you choose to use this smart drug!

Alexandre Dumas, Ayn Rand, Fyodor Dostoevsky, George Orwell, Hunter S. Thompson, J. R. R. Tolkien, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Leo Tolstoy

Dave Asprey, the Godfather of Biohacking, comments on its potent creativity-stimulating power

I predict that over the next few years it will become much more popular for performance and cognitive enhancement. After all, about 99 percent of the great works of literature in the last two hundred years (p > .05) were written under the influence of caffeine and nicotine, Mother Nature’s original smart drugs. (p. 282)

So write that book you’ve always been thinking about, start a video channel or blog. make art or music because you’re going to be at the fore of a mighty gust of wind in your creative sails on Nicotine, because as the patron demon of the deadly sin of sloth admits, in the novel The D’Evil Diaries

“Cigarettes were my greatest invention, you know. Makes people feel like they’re doing something even if they’re only lounging in an armchair.”

If you’ve enjoyed the creativity and rigor of my content (along with the relentless production of it) over the years, Nicotine is somewhat to thank for that! When I want to unleash my creative powers, I do some Nicotine, pour a cup of green tea, slip my over-ear headphones on, and listen to the brainpower-boosting holo-sync-style tunes of Brain.FM.

Mitochondrial Biohack

In this article, I quote liberally from Head Strong by Dave Asprey; this book makes the case that optimizing your Mitochondria is the ultimate performance-enhancing Biohack because your Mitochondria are the fundamental energy generation mechanism that underlies everything else. Dave’s exuberant praises of Nicotine on his excellent podcast were what initially convinced me to try pharma-grade Nicotine five years after I successfully quit smoking. From the book:

When you get the right amount, nicotine does a lot for you. For starters, it gives you faster, more precise motor function. People show more controlled and fluent handwriting after taking [nicotine] and they’re also able to tap their fingers faster on a keyboard without sacrificing accuracy. [Nicotine] makes you more vigilant, too. Participants who used nicotine patches were able to pay attention to a mentally tiring task longer than controls could. [Nicotine] gum had the same effect. [Nicotine] also sharpens your short-term memory: people who took nicotine better recalled a list of words they’d just read and also made fewer mistakes than people given a placebo when repeating a story word for word… Again, the boost in memory came from both patches and gum. And it has been shown that nicotine can even increase synaptic plasticity. (p. 283)

Memory Consolidation Hack

Anyone who has tried it knows that Nicotine is a powerful stimulator of short-term, working memory. This has a downstream effect of enhancing long-term memory via the consolidation mechanism.

Ben Greenfield writes in the mind-blowing chapter on Nootropics in Boundless

Research also suggests that oral consumption of nicotine improves memory consolidation during learning by increasing the density and efficiency of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the cholinergic system, the part of the nervous system responsible for memory function. (p.157)

Your long-term and short-term memory work together via the memory consolidation mechanism. What enhances your short-term, working memory, will ultimately make you better at remembering everything you need to.

Cognitive Enhancer

It’s a potent smart drug, I know this from the brain training that I’ve been doing for a decade. Nothing impacts my Dual N-Back scores (a good measure of working memory and executive control) like Nicotine does. I’ve done brain training on smart drugs like Modafinil, Piracetam, Phenylpiracetam, and a bunch of those fancy branded Nootropic stack products and Nicotine outperforms them pretty consistently!

A near all-time high Dual N-back brain training score of 4.2 achieved on Nicotine after nearly a month of NOT brain training. Brain power gains made with Dual-N-Back are sustained even with infrequent training.

Ben Greenfield ads…

Research has shown that while moderate doses of nicotine typically enhance cognition, high doses can inhibit cognitive performance. So when it comes to dosing nicotine, moderation and precision are key. Effective doses range from 2 to 4 mg administered over twenty to thirty minutes, a dose easily available in the form of nicotine gum or spray. (p.157)

Recent Scientific Research

There is a truly massive body of science on Nicotine, over 10,000 human research papers have been published in just the past 10 years on PubMed.

A recent Taiwanese study gave it to 13 healthy male baseball players and evaluated it as a sports performance enhancer

Compared with the placebo group, the nicotine group exhibited enhanced motor reaction times, grooved pegboard test (GPT) results on cognitive function, and baseball-hitting performance, and small effect sizes were noted… Nicotine could induce changes in endocrine and sympathetic nerve activity and enhance cognitive function and baseball-hitting performance. However, no increase in muscle strength was observed after nicotine intake.

A recent meta-analysis that included studies totaling over 900 human subjects confirmed that it’s a potent smart drug, concluding that it had…

statistically significant positive effects on attention, and non-significant effects on memory, in healthy non-smoking adults.

Many are understandably concerned that Nicotine might cause cancer, but a paper describes The Lung Health Study which enrolled nearly 6000 patients and compared smoking to Nicotine Replacement Therapy. It concludes…

smoking predicted cancer in this analysis and nicotine replacement therapy did not.

A 2023 meta-analysis out of Bahrain of Nicotine Replacement Therapy, warns…

The pooled estimates revealed a statistically significant number of patients developed mouth or throat irritation… or oral soreness… or gastric reflux or vomiting… patients on [Nicotine Replacement Therapy] must adhere to their regular dentist visits and must check their oral mucosa.

This points out a valid concern with taking Nicotine orally, the way I do. However, in the half-decade I’ve been using Nicotine orally I’ve never had dental issues or oral soreness.

Interestingly, Nicotine vaccines are a thing. These are preventive tools for substance use disorder, that apparently work pretty well for people to kick (or prevent) a Nicotine habit.

Mechanism of Action

When nicotine reaches your brain, it binds to nicotinic receptors (guess where they got their name?), activating pathways that control attention, memory, motor function, and pleasure. (p. 283)

Vs COVID

Do you remember when “the coronavirus” first paralyzed the world with fear in 2020 and many predicted a mass die-off of smokers? That didn’t happen because, surprisingly, Nicotine has an anti-inflammatory effect that helps us fight COVID. This got caught up in the disingenuous COVID “misinformation” counter-campaign, muddying the waters of scientific debate but a large meta-analysis looked at human studies totaling nearly 6000 people and concluded…

Although the generalized advice to quit smoking as a measure to reduce health risk remains valid, the findings, together with the well-established immunomodulatory effects of nicotine, suggest that pharmaceutical nicotine should be considered as a potential treatment option in COVID-19.

However, the largest clinical study done with COVID patients showed that transdermal nicotine did not significantly reduce day-28 mortality, but this was done with hospitalized patients. So I’d regard Nicotine as a preventative measure for arresting COVID infection in its early stages. The two times I had COVID, I used Nicotine to stay on point cognitively and both times it was a walk in the park for me — no “long COVID” here!

Vs Constipation

Interestingly, nicotine can act on very similar pathways to support acetycholine production, and some people have even experimented with nicotine patches over the lower right abdomen to stimulate peristalsis or deal with constipation. (p.509)

Cycling and Withdrawals

This is one smart drug that you must refrain from using as much as you might like to. There are health risks to chronic Nicotine use, it is a poison after all. And, it loses its performance enhancement potency the more you build up tolerance. The first week I’m on Nicotine it’s awesomely stimulating of my brainpower and creativity, but after a month or two, it’s kind of just a thing that I need to get the day started. So plan to go off of it cyclically.

Fortunately, at least for me, quitting Nicotine the way I use it is pretty easy. If I quit cold turkey after a month or two of daily use, the first day or two I’ll feel a little off, I have mild cravings, and I’m more irritable — I need to be mindful that I don’t snap at my wife over some small thing. Meditation, a gym session, or a few extra cups of coffee helps on these withdrawal days. What makes withdrawal even easier is tapering: for a week in advance of quitting decrease your intake by half or more. I find this makes withdrawal really no problem at all.

But, I’m blessed with a non-addictive personality type, if you’ve struggled with addiction in the past you should probably just stay away from Nicotine.

Nicotine and Productivity/Growth Cycles

It won’t take long to notice that you get A LOT done on Nicotine, especially before you’ve built up a high tolerance to it! So I intentionally schedule productivity sprints around the times that I’m going on Nicotine for a month or two. This year, I produced the second edition of my first book, my lifehacking manifesto, on just such a sprint. Then I went off Nicotine for a couple of months and took life a little easier. Then I went back on it for about two months to produce my magnum opus course on sex and relationship hacking for men. The course was the result of about a half-decade of experience, research, writing, and working with coaching clients but I impressed even myself with the sheer amount of creative work, video production, design, wordsmithing, and content polishing that I got done in just a few moons on Nicotine!

And it can work similarly for your personal growth endeavors; use Nicotine for a period to superpower your focus in learning a second language, reading (or writing) a great book, or journaling your way through the past to “integrate your shadow.” On a Nicotine cycle, the way my morning goes: I wake up an hour or two before my wife, grab water and my Nicotine, and sit in our living room where I do 10–15 minutes of energizing breathwork. Then I take a few hits of the Nicotine and spend 10–30 minutes on these personal growth habits…

  • Guided transformative meditation on some mindset that I want to reinforce
  • Dual N-Back brain training
  • Practice my Mnemonic memory systems with the hundreds of factoids and foreign language items in the SuperMemo app

If you’re going to use Nicotine, go into a cycle with a project in mind that you would be proud to stamp DONE on in 2 weeks, 30, 60, or 90 days.

Sources

Nicotine PG/VG Solution

I’m often asked…

Where and how can I take Nicotine as a creativity Nootropic?

For years, I’ve taken Nicotine in a liquid USP solution (either Propylene Glycol or Vegetable Glycerin). I struggled to find a good source of Nicotine here in Europe until I figured out that it’s sold at practically every vape shop! You can just walk into a vape shop and ask for a Nicotine “booster shot” in an unflavored PG or VG solution — it only costs a few bucks! It’s a great value compared to the overpriced Nicotine spray, gum, or lozenges. But you’re better off ordering a 100-milliliter bottle of USP solution. I find that the 1% stuff is too weak for my tastes, you want to get a solution that is 5% — 7% nicotine. Most recently, I got 100 milliliters with 100 milligrams of Nicotine (that’s 10%) but that’s too strong, so I diluted it in a DIY spray (which I’ll explain shortly…) Here are a couple of sources:

I can’t personally guarantee any of these sources as none of them provide COAs for purity testing of their stuff.

Nicotine Spray

This is the most economical and satisfying way I’ve found to take Nicotine.

I DIY’d it with a little spray bottle with a screw off top. I mix…

2 milliliters of 10% Nicotine USP solution
10–20 milliliters of coffee made in distilled water
Half a milliliter of rosemary essential oil (for taste and a little extra brainpower boost)

And a couple of sprays of that fires up my neurons on demand! Dave Asprey adds…

Nicotine spray is a more recent invention. Each spray of 1 mg of nicotine contains vanishingly small amounts of sucralose. You spray it under your tongue and feel it quickly, making it an excellent option when you want a burst of sustained energy. I’ve done more than one interview while on this, and I find it’s great for jet lag or when you have a heavy day ahead of you and want to maintain focus. (p. 286)

Nicotine Gum

This is a tasty, chewy way to get the Nicotine you crave, but as far as I can ascertain, just one company offers gum that meets the high standards that Biohackers demand. That would be Lucy.co, a purveyor of not-exactly-cheap gum, breakers, pouches, and lozenges with enticing packaging and mouthwatering flavors.

A bad idea is buying the Nicotine gum sold at pharmacies and grocery stores, Dave Asprey warns…

The problem with nicotine gum is that chewing gum causes your trigeminal nerve (associated with chewing) to fire more than it should. Save your chewing for eating, and your jaw (and nervous system) will be healthier. Also, every brand of gum I’ve found has aspartame in it, often along with other questionable artificial sweeteners. Aspartame is an excitatory neurotoxin — avoid it! (p. 285)

Nicotine Troches

This is one of the more innovative ways I’ve seen lately to take Nicotine. You hold these blue troches under your tongue for direct absorption along with a dose of caffeine and Methylene Blue, two of my favorite Nootropic molecules that share powerful synergies with Nicotine.

Around the internet, Biohackers speak in some pretty grandiose terms about the powers of cognition and creativity that these troches unleash but it’s a bit spendy. If you’re ballin’ on a budget, you could achieve a similar effect cheaply by taking a Nicotine solution with a few drops of Methylene Blue and drinking coffee.

Vaping?

E-cigs (and vaping) are controversial. Some people say they’re safe, but I have real concerns about the nanoparticles of heavy metals from the e-cig combustion chambers. You don’t want to breathe that stuff in! I tried a high-end e-cig and it caused throat irritation and made me cough even after attempting to get used to it. I don’t use or recommend them, especially because they have an oral sensation like smoking that makes them more addictive. (They’re still far better than smoking or chewing tobacco, however.) (p. 285)

Is Nicotine Carcinogenic?

That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Dave Asprey writes…

Nicotine by itself (separate from tobacco) was associated with cancer in [rats and mice]… However, the cancer link has never shown up in human studies, and a recent literature review found that there was no evidence to show that it caused cancer in humans. We do know, though, that nicotine is poisonous at high doses. You can get really sick if you overuse it. Nicotine gum, lozenges, or leftover patches could hurt or even kill a pet or a child. Store and treat all forms of nicotine with care. (p. 284)

Vs Testosterone

The recent book about the metabolic paradigm of medicine by obsessive researcher Mark Sloan, explains…

The study showed that testosterone was significantly decreased in the group that received the nicotine alone. But in the group that received nicotine as well as the nitric oxide inhibitor, testosterone levels were significantly higher. In other words, elevated nitric oxide stimulated by the nicotine decreased testosterone levels. By taking a nitric oxide inhibitor in addition to the nicotine, testosterone levels were maintained. [22]

While this was an animal study, it’s probably a pretty good idea to supplement a nitric oxide inhibitor if you’re going to use Nicotine, Caffeine and Methylene Blue are the best bets for that.

Expect a photo of me on Instagram on New Year’s morning smoking a cigar while drinking a blue coffee!

Vs Sleep

Nicotine is not great for your sleep, so don’t take it with 4–6 hours of sleep. Also, like a smoker, you’ll wake up craving Nicotine. In fact, I notice myself waking up earlier when I’m on a Nicotine cycle. This is a double-edged sword, it may give you more time to get things done in the wee hours of the morning but it may start to cut into the sleep you need. So while using Nicotine, be extra meticulous about your sleep hacking

  • Turn off the bright lights in your house, light candles, and go to the bathroom before bed in the dark
  • Avoid bright screens and blue light before bed
  • Do things that relax you and get you back in touch with your body: meditation, breathwork, talking with family, or making love
  • Take sleep supplements: Melatonin, Valerian root, Ashwagandha, etc

To list just a few things.

Risk Grade: C

I categorize Nicotine as a not low-risk Biohack, which is why first of all I urge moderation in usage and dosage. Be disciplined about taking small doses and taking breaks from it as opposed to using it as much as you like and increasing the dose over time to account for its tolerance curve.

Nicotine causes… brain damage?

Researching Mitochondrial-targeting antioxidants I came across the finding of a newer American study that found…

Nicotine may contribute to the pathogenesis of cerebrovascular disease via the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Overproduction of ROS leads to brain damage by intensifying post-ischemic inflammation.

But the animal subjects prone to stroke were given giant doses of Nicotine, two milligrams per kilo per day. I supplement maybe two milligrams of Nicotine myself on days that I’m using Nicotine and I weigh a lot more kilos than a rat does! But it’s all the more reason to be disciplined about healthy habits that counteract ROS buildup if you’re using Nicotine, also a good reason to supplement Mitochondrial antioxidants like CoQ10 — an especially good idea for smokers who are consuming way more Nicotine daily! Or better they could just quit.

Some of the meta-analysis papers done on Nicotine itself hint at cancer risk; which is why I would NOT recommend it for people at high risk for cancer, so people who are…

  • In remission from cancer
  • Obese
  • Elderly
  • Smokers
  • Or those who have a bad diet

I offset my cancer risk with these habits…

  • Fasting — I employ three different fasting strategies; an intermittent daily fast, a 24-hour fast about once a month, and a multiple-day fast a couple of times a year.
  • Exercise — weight lifting and cardio.
  • Drinking A LOT of green tea.
  • Supplementing Vitamin D3 and a bunch of other cancer-preventative anti-aging supplements.
  • Drinking quality coffee.
  • Eating high-quality organic food.
  • 10–20 minutes of daily red light therapy.
  • EMF mitigation and supporting the gene-repairing PARP system with NAD+ boosters.
  • Proper stress management with multiple mindfulness practices.

If you don’t do these kinds of things, your cancer risk is higher and maybe you shouldn’t use Nicotine. I know from my own experience that it’s not a perfectly harmless drug because after I’ve been taking it for a while, as the dosage creeps up, I consistently develop a mildly annoying rash on my forearm or shoulders. That’s my signal to cycle off!

Usage and Dosage

I try to keep my dosage below 5 milligrams daily. If you practice cycling and exercise a little self-control this will be all the stimulation you need. The Nicotine products mentioned above offer it in ranges up to 8 milligrams, I would NOT get in the habit of taking that much. Remember, Nicotine is a poison so the higher you let that dosage creep up the more you are risking an adverse reaction.

If you do decide to try nicotine, treat it carefully. A safe bet would be to take it on an ad hoc basis. Use it if you want to be extra-sharp for a big presentation or a three-hour meeting, but don’t use it daily. (p. 286)

Cofactors

Caffeine and Nicotine are an awesome combination (as any smoker will tell you.)

To enhance physical performance, consume 100 mg or more of caffeine and 2.5 mg or more of nicotine. (p.175)

I’m a big fan of getting caffeine in my system the old-fashioned way, with a steaming mug of the nectar of productivity (done Bulletproof-style). If you get your caffeine from a Nootropic stack, you’re missing out on all the other micronutrients in coffee that share synergies with caffeine. If you don’t like the taste of coffee, drink better stuff!

According to Powdercity Modafinil has a synergistic effect with nicotine:

Here’s what one researcher has to say about nicotine:
“To my knowledge, nicotine is the most reliable cognitive enhancer that we currently have, bizarrely,” said Jennifer Rusted, professor of experimental psychology at Sussex University in Britain when we spoke. “The cognitive-enhancing effects of nicotine in a normal population are more robust than you get with any other agent. With Provigil, for instance, the evidence for cognitive benefits is nowhere near as strong as it is for nicotine.”

Why does nicotine work so well? It’s a potent nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonist. Nicotinic acetylcholine activation suppresses GABAergic inputs to dopaminergic neurons, which elicits dopamine release in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Nicotine decreases the risk of parkinson’s disease, markedly improves working memory, and is underutilized due to its association with tobacco smoking.

If you want to try stacking nicotine with modafinil, start with the lowest possible doses, e.g., 1mg nicotine plus 50mg modafinil. Note that nicotine has a very narrow therapeutic range. Slapping fifteen nicotine patches on your back is a bizarrely popular suicide method precisely because it’s so lethal in overdose. As far as nootropics go, nicotine is probably the most dangerous if you’re not careful.

I have experienced this for myself…

Bottom Line: Is Nicotine worth the risk?

After trying about 200 different Nootropics, this is one of my favorite smart drugs but people who know me as a very health-conscious guy are always surprised to learn that I use it. But if my intermittent use was going to cause me health problems, those would surely have become apparent by now! I think that the potential downsides of Nicotine (which I’ve yet to really experience) can be managed by disciplined cycling, taking it alongside Methylene Blue, and a holistic Biohacker lifestyle. Nicotine is NOT a risk-free drug, millions of people every year meet their ignominious end because of it, but this line from my all-time favorite novel, Memoir from Antproof Case, captures EXACTLY how I feel about risk…

I was young again, as if on the sea or in the air, made lively by having everything to lose and everything to gain, made content only by risk, for in the light of risk every earthly color catches heavenly fire. (p. 366)

Conclusion

Nicotine is one of the great romances of my life. She’s my muse, thanks to her my name is on a body of creative work that I’m very proud of. I’ve learned things about myself with her. I awake thinking of her. She’s propelled me to great heights where the rarified air swept deep into my soul. But as much as I long for her, and as much as she does for me, I don’t totally trust her. When I enjoy the gifts she offers too much, I don’t feel quite right and it’s time for us to take a break from each other.

Originally published on LimitlessMindset.com. I’m not a doctor, medical professional, or trained therapist. I’m a researcher and pragmatic biohacking practitioner exercising free speech to share evidence as I find it. I make no claims. Please practice skepticism and rational critical thinking. You should consult a professional about any serious decisions that you might make about your health. Affiliate links in this article support Limitless Mindset — spend over $150 and you’ll be eligible to join the Limitless Mindset Secret Society.

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Jonathan Roseland

Adventuring philosopher, Pompous pontificator, Writer, K-Selected Biohacker, Tantric husband, Raconteur & Smart Drug Dealer 🇺🇸