Monoamine oxidase (MAO) is a mitochondrial outer-membrane flavoenzyme involved in brain and peripheral oxidative catabolism of neurotransmitters and xenobiotic amines, including neurotoxic amines, and a well-known target for antidepressant and neuroprotective drugs. Recently, positron emission tomography imaging has shown that smokers have a much lower activity of peripheral and brain MAO-A (30%) and -B (40%) isozymes compared to non-smokers. This MAO inhibition results from a pharmacological effect of smoke, but little is known about its mechanism. Working with mainstream smoke collected from commercial cigarettes we confirmed that cigarette smoke is a potent inhibitor of human MAO-A and -B isozymes. MAO inhibition was partly reversible, competitive for MAO-A, and a mixed-type inhibition for MAO-B. Two β-carboline alkaloids, norharman (β-carboline) and harman (1-methyl-β-carboline), were identified by GC–MS, quantified, and isolated from the mainstream smoke by solid phase extraction and HPLC. Kinetics analysis revealed that β-carbolines from cigarette smoke were competitive, reversible, and potent inhibitors of MAO enzymes. Norharman was an inhibitor of MAO-A ( K i = 1.2 ± 0.18 μM) and MAO-B ( K i = 1.12 ± 0.19 μM), and harman of MAO-A ( K i = 55.54 ± 5.3 nM). β-Carboline alkaloids are psychopharmacologically active compounds that may occur endogenously in human tissues, including the brain. These results suggest that β-carboline alkaloids from cigarette smoke acting as potent reversible inhibitors of MAO enzymes may contribute to the MAO-reduced activity produced by tobacco smoke in smokers. The presence of MAO inhibitors in smoke like β-carbolines and others may help us to understand some of the purported neuropharmacological effects associated with smoking.