Nicotine Deprivation Increases Pain Intensity, Neurogenic Inflammation, and Mechanical Hyperalgesia Among Daily Tobacco Smokers

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Abstract

An evolving reciprocal model posits that pain and tobacco smoking behavior interact in the manner of a positive feedback loop, resulting in greater pain and the maintenance of nicotine dependence. There is also reason to believe that abstaining from smoking may increase pain during the early stages of smoking cessation. The goal of this study was to test the effects of nicotine deprivation on experimental pain reactivity. Daily tobacco cigarette smokers (N = 165; 43% female) were randomized to either extended nicotine deprivation (12–24 hr smoking abstinence), minimal deprivation (2 hr smoking abstinence), or continued smoking conditions, prior to undergoing pain induction via topical capsaicin. As hypothesized, results indicated that extended deprivation (relative to continued smoking) increased capsaicin-induced pain intensity ratings, neurogenic inflammation, and mechanical hyperalgesia, thus implicating both central and peripheral mechanisms of action in the effects of smoking abstinence on pain reactivity. Pain intensity ratings were also positively correlated with nicotine withdrawal symptoms, and exploratory analyses suggest that pain sensitivity may increase with duration of smoking abstinence. Collectively, these findings indicate that smokers may experience a variety of negative pain-related sequelae during the early stages of a quit attempt. Future research should examine pain as a consequence or correlate of the nicotine withdrawal syndrome, and determine whether smokers may benefit from tailored cessation interventions that account for nicotine deprivation-induced amplification of pain.

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