Nicotine 101: Everything You Need To know About Nicotine
It is a common misconception that nicotine is only harmful. Surprisingly though, nicotine plays a little, if any, effect in the development of smoking-related illnesses. Nicotine is merely a predictor of tobacco addiction. And if this is the case, does this mean that nicotine has benefits?
Before answering this, it is essential to understand what nicotine is and how it works.
What is Nicotine?
Nicotine is a chemical that contains nitrogen, which is made by several types of plants, including the tobacco plant. It is also produced synthetically. Nicotine is a stimulant and is the primary element in cigarettes. This stimulant excites the neurological system at low levels, such as those found in combustible cigarettes, resulting in increased arousal and alertness. Nicotine binds to dopamine in the limbic system, which is the brain region that houses the pleasure and reward center, resulting in euphoria. Smokers' moods are lifted as a result of these impacts161.
What does Nicotine Do?
The brain releases several neurotransmitters when nicotinic cholinergic receptors are stimulated. Dopamine, for example, is one of them. Dopamine communicates a positive experience and is required for the reinforcing effects of nicotine and other addictive substances, as well as compelling impulses like eating, and, evidently, smoking162!
Nicotine also increases both glutamate and GABA, a type of acid release, which, in turn, enhances dopamine release. This, again, stimulates pleasurable experiences and reinforcing effects163.
Some nicotinic cholinergic receptors become desensitized after long-term nicotine use, whereas others do not. As a result, GABA-mediated inhibitory tone decreases while glutamate-mediated excitation increases, increasing dopaminergic neuron excitation and improving nicotine responsiveness164.
Also read to know more on Facts & Myths of Nicotine and Nicotine Replacement Therapy, here.
How Does the Body Become Dependent on Nicotine?
Nicotine dependency (also known as tobacco addiction) is characterized by physical and psychological aspects that make it difficult to quit smoking, even if the person wishes to.
Nicotine and other addictive substances both release a neurotransmitter called dopamine in the brain. It generates mood swings that make the person feel better for a short time. Inhaled smoke delivers nicotine to the brain in less than 20 seconds, making it as addictive as opiates, alcohol, and cocaine. This "high" is a key component of the addictive process165.
What are the Benefits of Nicotine?
In answering the question of whether nicotine has benefits. The answer is a definite yes. Palpably, tobacco contains nicotine, which causes illness and death in millions of individuals. Nicotine, on the other hand, in its purest form, has the potential to be a useful medicinal agent166.
According to a study conducted in the early 2000s167, nicotine has been shown to:
- increase attention and memory function
- be effective in treating Alzheimer's disease
- be effective in treating schizophrenia
- and to be effective in treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
In addition to improving performance, nicotine may cause168:
- positive reinforcement
- negative reinforcement
- and weight loss.
Also, not only does nicotine fight Alzheimer’s disease, but it also protects against
- Parkinson's disease
- Tourette's disease
- ulcerative colitis
- and sleep apnea169.
What are the Side Effects of Nicotine?
The most potent side effect of nicotine is the fact that it is highly addictive.
As indicated by the absence of popular use of de-‘nicotine’ cigarettes compared to those containing nicotine, nicotine is regarded to be the key reinforcer in the addictive potential of tobacco products.
Nicotine addiction is complicated, involving not only reward circuitry but also a variety of sensory and psychological components170. In other words, nicotine affects reward circuits in the brain, but it also possesses unpleasant sensory qualities.
Nicotine causes peripheral sensory neurons to convey discomfort and pain. This activates trigeminal pain pathways, causing neurons and other brainstem locations to fire in a pattern similar to nicotine's psychophysical desensitizing effect. Nicotine's Rewarding and anti-nociceptive features appear to be in a paradox171.
Additionally, nicotine harms the heart, reproductive system, lungs, and kidneys, among other organs172. Here are some side effects of nicotine, as well:
- Nicotine impairs insulin sensitivity and increases the risk of metabolic syndrome173.
- Nicotine has biological effects on cells that are crucial for cancer development and progression174.
- Nicotine decreases elastin in the lung parenchyma and increases alveolar volume, which contributes to the development of emphysema in smokers. Nicotine stimulates the vagal reflex and parasympathetic ganglia, resulting in bronchoconstriction and increased airway resistance175.
- Nicotine usage has been linked to Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disorder and peptic ulcer disease176.
Also read more in-depth on 5 Common Effects & Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal , here.
How does NRT help quit Smoking177?
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is the most often prescribed class of anti-smoking drugs. NRT provides nicotine to the body to replace nicotine lost through cigarettes and to aid in the reduction of nicotine cravings when quitting smoking. The amount of nicotine delivered gradually decreases over time, reducing dependency and assisting you in quitting smoking.
NRT alleviates withdrawal symptoms by delivering a modest, controlled dose of nicotine while excluding the other harmful compounds found in cigarettes.
NRT is available in a variety of forms and is utilized in a variety of ways. You can pick and choose the forms you prefer. For some people, some NRT products work better than others. Certain NRT products may be preferred above others by some persons. Nicotine patches, nicotine gum, and nicotine lozenges are different forms of NRT. They're sold in most pharmacies.
Benefits of using NRT products178
If you're thinking about using NRT to quit smoking, it's important to understand the advantages of this method.
- NRT has been shown in clinical trials to boost your chances of stopping smoking by 50-70 percent as compared to quitting on your own.
- NRT is free of the hazardous substances contained in cigarettes and tobacco smoke, including cancer-causing compounds. There is no proof that nicotine promotes cancer at this time.
- When used correctly, NRT products contain significantly less nicotine than smoking tobacco, and the nicotine is absorbed at a slower pace.
- There is no indication that you will become reliant on NRT, and only a small percentage of people use NRT for longer than the suggested term.
Side effects of using NRT products179
The nicotine patch may cause the following adverse effects:
- Inflammation of the skin (redness and itching)
- A pounding heartbeat
- Sleep disturbances or strange dreams
- Muscle stiffness and pains
No one experiences all of the negative effects, and some people have none of them. Some side effects, including a racing heart, may indicate that your nicotine intake is too high. If this happens, stop using the patch and speak with your doctor. If your NRT dose is too low, you may experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
In conclusion, an ultimate solution would be to stop smoking whatsoever and only resort to taking nicotine in its purest form and in an adequate dose if, and only if, requested by your healthcare provider. Nicotine is addictive and predicts your tobacco consumption, which does have adverse effects on your overall health and well-being. If you are struggling with nicotine addiction, it would be best to seek needed support from nicotine-replacement theory and smoking cessation groups.
Read more on Facts & Myths of Nicotine & Nicotine Replacement Therapy, here.