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A recent study highlights a worrisome connection between teen smoking, nicotine addiction, and reduced brain volume. Researchers from various countries found that teenagers who start smoking by age 14 tend to have less gray matter in a specific part of the left frontal lobe, which is linked to decision-making and rule-breaking tendencies.

Nicotine affects brain volume in left ventromedial prefrontal cortex

Grey matter, responsible for processing information in the brain and housing all neurons, experiences its peak growth before adolescence, even though brain development persists into adulthood.

A study conducted by researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and Warwick, along with Fudan University in China, examined brain imaging and behavior data of more than 800 youths aged 14, 19, and 23. They suggest that reduced grey matter in the left ventromedial prefrontal cortex could be an inherited indicator of nicotine addiction.

Researchers found that smokers exhibited decreased grey matter in the right prefrontal cortex, a brain region linked to sensation-seeking behavior. Additionally, they noted that smokers experienced reduced grey matter in the opposite, left part of the same brain area. This loss of grey matter in the right prefrontal cortex appeared to accelerate after smoking initiation, potentially contributing to impulsive actions and diminished consideration of consequences.

Grey matter decrease leads to cognitive impairment

According to researchers the decrease in grey matter in the left forebrain might impair cognitive function, leading to disinhibition and a higher probability of early smoking initiation.

The development of a nicotine habit is associated with the shrinking of grey matter in the right frontal lobe, potentially impacting control over smoking and pleasure-seeking. This loss of grey matter is also linked to binge drinking and cannabis use, suggesting a compromised neuro-behavioral mechanism that could contribute to early nicotine initiation and long-term addiction.

According to Professor Trevor Robbins from Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, smoking is a widely prevalent addictive behavior globally and a significant contributor to adult mortality. Robbins adds that smoking habits are more likely to occur during adolescence and early detection can help in coming up with prevention strategies and this save lives.