Prior research indicates that reducing nicotine content could help smokers quit, but there is little evidence to demonstrate if these policies could adversely affect smokers with current or prior affective disorders like depression and anxiety disorders. which affects an estimated 38% of U.S. cigarette smokers.
Smokers with mental health conditions are more likely to have severe nicotine withdrawal symptoms and less successful at quitting. There is speculation that lessening nicotine content to very low levels could worsen psychiatric symptoms in smokers with mental health conditions and lead to heavier smoking and increased exposure to toxicants, or harmful chemicals.
Is Sound Mind Needed for Quitting Smoking?
Researchers studied 188 smokers with a history of or who had a current mood or anxiety disorder and had no plans to quit. Volunteer participants were randomly assigned to a group that received either research cigarettes containing the usual amount of nicotine or a progressively reduced amount of nicotine.
At the beginning and end of the study, they measured levels of cotinine, a metabolite of nicotine, levels of harmful chemicals, cigarette dependence indexes, and various mental health measures. They observed no statistically significant differences in mental health measures between the two groups after the study.
They used the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, a six-item self-report assessment where participants reported on a 5-point scale the degree to which they experienced feelings or emotions like “nervous,” “hopeless” or “so depressed that nothing could cheer them up”.
Scores are developed by summing points for the six experiences. Participants in the reduced nicotine content group scored an average of 5.3 at the beginning of the study and finished at an average score of 4.6, while participants in the usual nicotine content group scored 6.1 at the beginning of the study and finished around 4.9.
These findings showed that there wasn’t a significant difference in mental health measures between the groups, suggesting reduced nicotine cigarettes might not have adverse psychological effects on this population.