BACKGROUND: The experienced smoker maintains adequate nicotine levels by 'puff-by-puff self-control' which also avoids symptomatic nauseating effects of nicotine overdose. It is postulated that there is a varying 'dynamic threshold for nausea' into which motion sickness susceptibility provides an objective toxin-free probe. Hypotheses were that: (i) nicotine promotes motion sickness whereas deprivation protects; and (ii) pleasurable effects of nicotine protect against motion sickness whereas adverse effects of withdrawal have the opposite effect.
METHODS: Twenty-six healthy habitual cigarette smokers (mean±SD) 15.3±7.6cigs/day, were exposed to a provocative cross-coupled (coriolis) motion on a turntable, with sequences of 8 head movements every 30s. This continued to the point of moderate nausea. Subjects were tested after either ad-lib normal smoking (SMOKE) or after overnight deprivation (DEPRIV), according to a repeated measures design counter-balanced for order with 1-week interval between tests.
RESULTS: Deprivation from recent smoking was confirmed by objective measures: exhaled carbon monoxide CO was lower (P<0.001) for DEPRIV (8.5±5.6ppm) versus SMOKE (16.0±6.3ppm); resting heart rate was lower (P<0.001) for DEPRIV (67.9±8.4bpm) versus SMOKE (74.3±9.5bpm). Mean±SD sequences of head movements tolerated to achieve moderate nausea were more (P=0.014) for DEPRIV (21.3±9.9) versus SMOKE (18.3±8.5).
DISCUSSION: Tolerance to motion sickness was aided by short-term smoking deprivation, supporting Hypothesis (i) but not Hypothesis (ii). The effect was was approximately equivalent to half of the effect of an anti-motion sickness drug. Temporary nicotine withdrawal peri-operatively may explain why smokers have reduced risk for postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV).