Smoking Reduction

Smoking and Alpha Brainwaves

Have you ever wondered why smokers smoke when stressed? It sounds counterintuitive because the principal pharmacological agent in tobacco smoke is nicotine, which is a mild stimulant.

There is chain smoking of course, which involves smoking tobacco more or less continuously during waking hours and another type of “therapeutic” smoking that seems to elicit a relaxation response. If you smoke or you know someone who smokes, this stress-reducing “therapeutic” response can be seen when at the first sign of stress there is an overwhelming urge to light up.

How can we explain the stress-reducing effects of tobacco smoking and can we find alternate and healthier ways of helping smokers achieve the same effect that they seemingly crave without having to smoke to get it?

Surprisingly little research has been done on the link between smoking and stress-reduction, but there are a few studies that can be drawn upon to answer this question. In 2009 Domino and colleagues[1] reported in the an EEG study involving tobacco smokers who either sham smoked or smoked their favourite cigarette. Results demonstrated that smoking tobacco produced widespread and bilateral increases in dominant alpha EEG frequencies. Interestingly, minor but statistically significant increases in dominant alpha brainwaves were also found for sham smokers. This is perhaps not surprising given the likelihood of strong conditioning relationships between the ritualistic aspects of smoking, smoking itself, and alpha brainwave frequencies.

While the alpha frequency effect associated with smoking is now well-established, the question arises as to what is it about smoking that induces dominant alpha frequencies?

In 1994, Foulds and colleagues[2] reported on a small study that compared the effects of subcutaneous nicotine injections versus placebo (saline) on EEG alpha brainwave frequency in non-smokers. Using a counter-balanced double-blind crossover experimental design, two 0.6 mg doses of nicotine or placebo were administered 40 min apart. These researchers found that the nicotine injection produced an increase in dominant alpha frequency compared with the saline-treated subjects. The researchers reported “The increase in dominant alpha frequency found in non-smokers in this study was similar to that following nicotine inhalation in abstinent smokers in previous studies, and suggests that this is a primary effect of nicotine.”

From this research it appears as though the stress reducing effects of smoking tobacco is primarily due to nicotine induced dominant alpha brainwaves. Nicotine can either be injected or absorbed across the lungs. Presumably it can also be absorbed from a nicotine patch on the skin. However, regardless of its mode of passage into the bloodstream dominant alpha brainwaves follow ingestion and a half century of EEG research has already established that alpha waves are associated with states of relaxation.

There is nothing rare about alpha brainwaves and in fact they can be elicited by activating a variety of sensory pathways. For instance walking in a forest is likely to elicit them to a degree. Moreover, Ulrich[3] reported that people respond with more alpha brainwaves simply by viewing slides of nature, especially slides of water, compared with slides of urban environments. Research from Masago and colleagues[4] revealed that the inhalation of essential oils, especially lavender has a prominent alpha eliciting effect on brainwaves. It is also well-known that L-theanine in green tea produces dominant alpha waveforms 30-45 minutes after ingestion.

While there are many substances and experiences that can produce alpha brainwaves, the catch is in keeping them going. The Deep Mind Smoking Reduction Pack, which entrains brainwaves to alpha frequencies can do just that. The constancy of the alpha beat entrains dominant alpha brainwaves after only a few short minutes and maintains that frequency for the duration of exposure. It seems that alpha brainwave entrainment would have a lot to offer someone aiming to reduce or stop tobacco smoking.

A major principle in relapse prevention for addictive behaviours like tobacco smoking is replacing the unhealthy behaviour with some alternate healthy behaviour that serves the same or similar function. This behaviour must be fully compatible with the old behaviour in terms of it being sufficiently portable and easily undertaken. Again, brainwave entrainment fits this objective perfectly – it naturally leads to a relaxation response and it is very portable being able to be carried on a small MP3 player wherever you go. However, we would also want to also add deep breathing into the mix because deep breathing is something that smokers do very well, except that they deep breathe smoke. Deeply breathing clean air also naturally elicits a relaxation response and bringing attention to the breath provides an anchor point to return to whenever the mind begins to wander.

The Deep Mind Smoking Reduction Pack includes six 10 minute alpha entrainment tracks. Each track is designed to be listened to during a smoking break at work or at home. Each track provides a different mix of nature sounds and ambient tones and is relaxing in its own right. With the added benefit of isochronic, monaural, and binaural sound pulses, the alpha response is quite profound. With continued use, the onset latency for alpha brainwaves should be no more than a few seconds.

For further information on the Deep Mind Smoking Reduction Pack, click here.


[1] Domino, E. F., Ni, L., Thompson, M., Zhang, H., Shikata, H., Fukai, H., Sakaki, T., & Ohya, I. (2009). Tobacco smoking produces widespread dominant brain wave alpha frequency increases. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 74(3), 192-198.

[2] Foulds, J., McSorley, K., Sneddon, J., Feyerabend, C., Jarvis, M. J., and Russell, M. A. H. (1994). Effect of subcutaneous nicotine injections on EEG alpha frequency in non-smokers: a placebo-controlled pilot study. Psychopharmacology, 115(1-2), 163-166.

[3] Ulrich, R. S. (1981). Natural versus urban scenes: Some psychophysiological effects. Environment and Behavior, 13, 523-556. 

[4] Masago, R., Matsuda, T., Kikuchi, Y., Miyazaki, Y., Iwanaga, K., Harada, H., & Katsuura, T. (2000). Effects of inhalation of essential oils on EEG activity and sensory evaluation. Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science, 19(1), 35-42.