Smokers deprived of nicotine show noticeable increased activity in specific parts of the brain. Studies in the past have been done to monitor smokers’ responses to sensory cues related to cigarettes, such as seeing someone smoking a cigarette, but none have been done concerning “abstinence induced” cravings.
The study was performed at the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center, and utilized a new technique for monitoring cerebral blood flow (CBF) developed by UPenn researcher Dr. John Detre. This new method is non-invasive, and uses MRI arterial spin labeled (ASL) technology.
14 regular smokers participated in the study, six male and eight female, mean age 38.9 years, and on average, 16.9 cigarettes were smoked a day by each participant.
Two scans at varying time intervals were performed measuring CBF for each participant. Participants smoked a cigarette within one hour for the short CBF scan, and abstained from smoking a cigarette overnight for the longer scan.
The scans conclusively showed that there was increased brain activity in regions associated with chemical cravings in the longer interval scan, namely in “brain regions important in attention, behavioral control, memory and reward.” This means that the longer a regular smoker goes without smoking a cigarette, the stronger the CBF in certain regions of the brain that induce cravings.
There are two potentially major contributions of this study. The first is the evidence that cravings and addiction to cigarette’s are not only a result of sensory stimulation, but also strongly correlated to the amount of time abstained from the addictive chemicals.
Secondly, the study successfully utilized Dr John Detre’s non-invasive method of measuring CBF. This success may lead to the method being utilized in cigarette and other drug treatment procedures to identify those individuals with high levels of chemical addiction, and therefore a higher risk of relapse.
Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Wang, Ze. Faith, Myles. Patterson, Freda. Tang, Kathy. Kerrin, Kia. Wileyto, E. Paul. Detre, John. Lerman, Caryn. The Journal of Neuroscience. “Neural Substrates of Abstinence-Induced Cigarette Cravings in Chronic Smokers.” December 2007.