- After analyzing the brain scans of more than 800 smokers, taken at the ages of 14, 19, and 24, scientists at the University of Cambridge say they've discovered differences in the brain from that of their non-smoking peers.1
- The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that teenagers who began smoking at or before the age of 14 showed a significant reduction in grey matter in a section of the left frontal lobe linked to decision-making and rule-breaking.2
- Co-author of the research, Prof. Barbara Sahakian from Cambridge's Dept. of Psychiatry, said that: "The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is a key region for dopamine, the brain's pleasure chemical," and an area that has "long been believed to affect self-control."2
- Scans from the study additionally found that the right frontal lobe had less grey matter in teenage smokers. According to scientists, this could also lead to addiction and influence the ways in which young people seek pleasure.3
- The shrinkage of grey matter in the right frontal lobe — also linked to marijuana usage and binge drinking — begins with the start of nicotine addiction. The study concluded that shrinking grey matter results in a damaged neurobehavioral mechanism, meaning young people begin to use nicotine early on and form long-lasting addictions.2
- From this study, the team believes they can now work on potential addiction treatments, including using psychotropic drugs to reduce or eliminate brain shrinkage to enable normal functioning frontal lobe, and using brain-altering technology to isolate and treat this region of the brain. Prof. Sahakian believes the results could also link to vaping, though the study didn't account for it.1
- Narrative A, as provided by The Telegraph. This research is a positive step forward in understanding and treating nicotine addiction, but the rate at which young people in the UK are switching from cigarettes to vapes suggests a large degree of the study's usefulness will depend on whether it is also applicable to vaping. Teens across the world are facing the impacts of vaping, from bleeding lungs to lung collapse — scientists must determine if these results can be used to prevent such health disasters.
- Narrative B, as provided by UnHerd. The threat of vaping is often massively exaggerated by media. Though deaths and serious illnesses do occur as a result of vaping, in terms of years of life lost, disability, pain, and the burden on global healthcare, smoking remains the first priority in terms of research and treatment. Western societies have chosen to treat e-cigarette usage interchangeably with tobacco smoking, even though the former remains far more popular. This research is excellent news, as it will help tackle an ongoing health crisis affecting the lives of many millions across the globe.