A week later, the procedure was repeated with the same group of smokers. They were asked not to smoke for 12 hours, and when they arrived they were given the same questionnaire. Then they were given a cigarette to smoke before doing the next questionnaire, so that there was a record of how their withdrawal symptoms went away, how good they felt after smoking, how great that cigarette was and how much it satisfied their craving.
Except that the second time, the cigarette didn’t have any nicotine in it. It was made of tobacco and it felt and tasted and smelled just like a real cigarette, but the nicotine – which we all know is the addicting drug in cigarettes – had been chemically removed.
The punch line is that the questionnaires were virtually identical. The normal cigarettes with nicotine and cigarettes with no nicotine were as good as each other in eliminating the withdrawal symptoms. Just to make sure, a blood sample was taken and it confirmed that when the nicotine-free cigarettes had been smoked, no nicotine had entered the blood stream. Even though these smokers had received no nicotine at all in their blood and in their brain, their craving was satisfied and physical feelings of withdrawal subsided.
The researchers behind this study point out that this effect is “subject to rapid extinction”, which is their way of saying that you can’t keep it going for very long. Fairly soon the smokers would realise there was something wrong with the cigarettes and the effect would disappear. But the fact that it happens at all, even for a brief period of time, gives us a very clear indication of what the mind can do. We can begin to see the difference made by attitude in the process of addiction. The smokers expected to feel better after they smoked the cigarette, and so they did!
These effects are not confined to smokers.
One researcher took the active ingredients – the ‘drugs’ – from chocolate and fed them to chocoholic volunteers in the form of a pill. They weren’t in the least bit interested in the pill and it did nothing to satisfy their craving for the real thing. The researchers concluded that craving, liking and eating chocolate is “motivated principally by desire for the sensory properties of chocolate.”