Scientists have developed a one-two chemical punch that might help smokers kick the habit by spoiling the pleasures of cigarettes.
The combination consists of a nicotine patch plus another substance that blocks nicotine’s effects. Small studies suggest that might work better than a regular patch.
The idea is to rob smoking of its rewards, such as the taste of tobacco and the tranquilizing and alertnessinducing effects of nicotine.
“We have the prospect of ruining the enjoyment of a cigarette,” said psychologist Jed Rose.
Rose is chief of the nicotine research laboratory at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Durham, N.C. He discussed the research Tuesday at a meeting of the American Psychological Association.
Nicotine produces its effects by binding to certain sites on brain cells called receptors. This triggers the pleasurable but addicting effects.
To interrupt that, Rose has been working with mecamylamine. Like nicotine, mecamylamine also binds to the receptors, but in a way that blocks nicotine’s effects. The drug also alters the taste of cigarettes and makes them less enjoyable, Rose said.
When mecamylamine is used by itself, it can cause drowsiness and dizziness, and by blocking cigarettes’ effect, can also make smokers crave nicotine.
So the idea is to use the two drugs together. Nicotine from a patch turns on some brain receptors and mecamylamine blocks others. That way, the nicotine quells craving, while the mecamylamine blocks the reward from cigarettes.