Many studies have proven that smoking correlates to a decrease in cognitive function, and even a physical decline in the outer layer of grey matter, or cortex, of your brain.
Smokers have slightly poorer cognitive functioning in later life, and lower scores on things like memory and cognitive flexibility. This doesn’t mean that you get off lucky if you started smoking young though - the cognitive functioning of young adults has also been shown to decline if they are smokers.
The greatest risk is stroke - but it shrinks your brain too
Over 40% of strokes occurring in people under the age of 65 occur in smokers. Strokes can easily result in death. The slimming down of the cortex isn’t a good thing either - the cortex is responsible for most of your cognitive function. Effects on the brain may not be completely direct - reduced lung capacity can lead to a reduced flow of oxygen to the brain, which can cause many different effects, including thinning of the cortex and stroke. Since lung capacity tends to recover relatively quickly, oxygen levels to the brain will pick up, leading to improvements in cognitive function.
Nicotine helps your brain on its own
While smoking tobacco has negative effects on memory and cognitive function, nicotine on its own seems to be the exact opposite. While many e-cigarette users want to ramp down on nicotine levels to kick their addiction to it, you do not have to worry about long-term cognitive effects from nicotine alone. In fact, it has been shown to lead to improvements in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological conditions. Ramping down from nicotine is difficult because smokers have more nicotine receptors in the brain, and withdrawal symptoms arise when the nicotine supply is cut off. Vapers can help to reduce this withdrawal by gradually ramping down the nicotine strength in their eliquids.
Can I recover from neurological damage from smoking?
It really depends how long and how much you have been smoking but the answer is yes, over a period of years, as this study shows. Heavy smokers showed the least improvement after quitting over the long term, taking about 25 years to “catch up” to non-smokers after their quit date. However, as soon as you quit smoking, you are preventing further decline, as well as reducing other ill health effects.