Cocaine addicts confuse drug impact of nicotine

Tuesday 02 February 1999

ASH/ Press releases/


102 CliftonStreet, London EC2A 4HW Tel: (020) 7739 5902 Fax: (020) 7613 0531

Press release2nd February 1999 ASH
Action on Smoking
and Health

Cocaine addicts confuse drug impact of nicotine and cocaine…

In the first study to compare the subjective effects of cocaine and nicotine <ahref=”#references”>[1], hard drug users frequently thought they were takingcocaine or heroin, when they were actually taking nicotine.  10 cocaine-addictedsmokers were injected with high, medium and low doses of cocaine or nicotine <ahref=”#references”>[2] without knowing what they were taking.  Theywere asked to rate the drug sensations (both good and bad), to guess what the drug was,and to say how much money they would pay for the experience offered by the drug.  Thefindings are remarkable.

  • Subjects found that nicotine had a comparable drug impact to cocaine – and the high dose of nicotine had greater drug effect than the high dose of cocaine.
  • The ‘rush’ and ‘high’ were greater from nicotine than from cocaine.
  • The highest levels of ‘good sensation’ were achieved from the highest dose of nicotine.   However, nicotine also had more negative effects, such as ‘jitters’, than cocaine.
  • Most users identified nicotine as a stimulant, of these the majority (75%) thought they were taking cocaine when they were actually taking nicotine.  At the highest dose of nicotine, 40% thought they were taking an opiate such as heroin.
  • Though nicotine had the largest drug effect and the highest good sensation, the subjects were prepared to pay less for it because of the negative effects.  The average willingness to pay for the high dose of cocaine was $6.32 but $3 for the highest nicotine fix.

Clive Bates, Director of ASH commented: “We know tobacco is powerfully addictiveand that nicotine affects the brain in subtle ways that are similar to hard drugs likecocaine and heroin.  We tend to think of nicotine as a soft drug, but this researchadds weight to the idea that it is more like a hard drug, albeit one that is legal and inwidespread use.”

“A big difference between cocaine and nicotine is that tobacco users take theirnicotine in a cocktail of four thousand of toxic chemicals.  The vicious combinationof addiction and poison is what leads to 120,000 smoking deaths per year in the UK.  Taking nicotine by inhaling cigarette smoke is like injecting hard drugs through a dirtysyringe.”

[1] Jones H, Garrett B, Griffiths R, ‘Subjective andPhysiological Effects of Intravenous Nicotine and Cocaine in Cigarette Smoking CocaineAbusers’ the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. 288:188-197 January1999.

[2] The study used intravenously injected doses of 0.75, 1.5, 3.0mg nicotine per 70kgbody weight. This covers the low, typical and high dose of nicotine that can be drawn fromsmoking a cigarette. For cocaine, the doses were 10, 20, 40mg cocaine per 70kg. A ‘line’of cocaine typically contains 20-30mg of cocaine hydrochloride. Placebos were also used.




Contact Clive Bates, Director (020) 7739 5902

RegisteredCharity No 262067
Action on Smoking and Health is a company limited by guarantee.  Registered inEngland No 998971.  Registered address as above