Smoking may increase seizure frequency in people with epilepsy. People with epilepsy also seem to be more likely to smoke than people in the general population.

Smoking may contribute to the development of seizures by exposing your brain to certain chemicals found in cigarettes, such as nicotine or arsenic.

Although an increasing number of studies have linked smoking to increased seizure frequency in people with epilepsy, the exact cause of the link isn’t clear.

Along with possibly increasing your risk of seizures, smoking can also increase your risk of developing other health conditions, such as lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Read on to learn more about the connection between cigarette smoking and the development of seizures.

How does cigarette smoking affect people with epilepsy?

Cigarette smoking seems to be associated with an increased risk of seizures in people who have epilepsy.

The link may be due to nicotine or other chemicals in cigarettes, such as arsenic, ammonia, or acetone. Animal research suggests that nicotine may encourage the development of seizures by activating nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the brain.

In a 2024 research review of 17 studies, researchers found that current smokers had a 1.46 times higher chance of having epilepsy than nonsmokers. Former smokers had a 1.14 times higher risk than nonsmokers of having epilepsy, but this difference didn’t reach statistical significance.

In a 2019 study, researchers found that smokers with epilepsy were nearly 4 times more likely to experience seizures in the past year than nonsmokers.

In a 2020 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers reported higher rates of smoking in people with epilepsy versus people without a history of epilepsy:

  • 24.9% of people with active epilepsy were smokers
  • 25.9% of people with inactive epilepsy were smokers
  • 16.6% of people with no history of epilepsy were smokers

Chemicals found in cigarette smoke may also decrease the effectiveness of certain epilepsy medications that control seizures. For example, smoking has been found to lower levels of lamotrigine in the blood.

How does cigarette smoking affect people without epilepsy?

According to the CDC, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. It’s attributed to more than 480,000 deaths each year. Smokers have the following elevated risks:

  • Coronary heart disease risk is increased 2 to 4 times.
  • Stroke risk is increased 2 to 4 times.
  • Men have a 25 times increased risk of lung cancer.
  • Women have a 25.7 times risk of lung cancer.

Smoking also increases your risk of many other cancers that include but aren’t limited to:

  • bladder cancer
  • throat and oral cancer
  • pancreatic cancer
  • stomach cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • colon cancer

It also increases your risk of dying from cancer.

Other health effects of smoking include:

  • making it more difficult to become pregnant and increasing the risk of birth complications
  • reducing fertility in males
  • reducing bone density in females
  • contributing to tooth and gum disease
  • increasing risk of type 2 diabetes
  • weakening your immune system

What other things can trigger seizures?

Seizures can have many different triggers. They can be caused by serious medical conditions such as a high fever or low blood sugar. Recurrent seizures that don’t have a known underlying cause are called epilepsy.

The most common triggers for epileptic seizures include:

  • stress
  • lack of sleep
  • alcohol
  • mediations and illegal drugs
  • waking up in the morning
  • menstruation, for females
  • flashing lights

Frequently asked questions about smoking and seizures

Does cannabis cause seizures (smoking or edibles)?

There’s currently no consensus on how cannabis affects seizure activity.

In a 2022 research review, researchers found a potentially higher-than-expected rate of seizures in people using cannabis products, possibly due to the chemical THC.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, some small studies suggest CBD extracted from cannabis may help control seizures.

Does nicotine vaping cause seizures?

Seizures have been reported after vaping nicotine, but the link still isn’t clear.

Nicotine intake from e-cigarettes is typically similar or lower to that in tobacco cigarettes. A very large dose would likely be needed to cause seizures and other symptoms of nicotine intoxication.

Does nicotine make seizures worse?

Nicotine is known to promote seizure activity. Along with smoking cigarettes, seizures have also been reported in cases of nicotine poisoning from nicotine patches.

Does quitting smoking help epilepsy?

Quitting smoking can potentially improve epilepsy symptoms.

In a 2024 study, researchers found that current smokers were more likely to have epilepsy than nonsmokers. They didn’t find a statistically significant increased risk in former smokers.

Can nicotine withdrawal cause seizures?

It’s unclear whether nicotine withdrawal can make seizures worse, but smoking withdrawal is associated with neurological symptoms such as irritability, anger, anxiety, and depression.


Smoking exposes your brain to nicotine and other chemicals that may promote seizure activity. Some research suggests that people who currently smoke are more likely to have epilepsy than nonsmokers.

Smoking can also cause many other health problems like increasing your risk of lung cancer or coronary heart disease. Quitting smoking can help you reduce your risk of smoking-related complications.



Source:, Darragh O’Carroll, MD, Daniel Yetman