What is nicotine?
Many people have heard of nicotine; they know it is commonly found in tobacco cigarettes, but usually, that's the extent of their knowledge. However, there is so much more to know about nicotine, a fascinating chemical compound. For example, nicotine is a substance that occurs in nature; it's not some laboratory-made compound. Nicotine is something called an alkaloid, which means that it contains nitrogen atoms. Alkaloids can be found in many different kinds of living things such as plants, animals, bacteria and fungi. Some other alkaloids include caffeine, quinine, ephedrine and atropine.
Nicotine in the Human Body
Nicotine makes its way through the body via the bloodstream. When a person smokes a cigarette and inhales the nicotine, the nicotine reaches the brain in around seven seconds. When the nicotine comes into contact with the brain, it causes the levels of several neurotransmitters to rise significantly. One of these neurotransmitters is dopamine, a substance associated with the reward system of the brain. Dopamine is famously known for causing things like relaxation, pleasure and addiction.
Nicotine doesn't stay in the body very long; it only has a half-life of around two hours. As mentioned before, nicotine and caffeine are both alkaloids, which helps explain why these two chemicals have similar effects on people. Although nicotine sometimes gets a bad rap due to being an addictive stimulant, research has not shown any links between nicotine and cancer.
How Does Nicotine Affect People?
Although nicotine does not affect each person the same way, common nicotine effects reported by people who use tobacco products include mood change and weight loss. Nicotine is an unusual chemical; unlike other chemicals that either stimulate or sedate, nicotine can do both, depending on the amount ingested. Low doses of nicotine cause the liver to release glucose, the adrenal medulla to release adrenaline and the brain to become more sensitive to dopamine and norepinephrine; all of these things result in stimulation. Higher doses of nicotine make the brain more sensitive to serotonin and opiates, which creates a sedative effect. Smokers who want to experience nicotine's stimulating effects take short, quick puffs while smokers who crave the sedation that nicotine can provide take long, deep puffs. Nicotine is also known for cutting down people's appetites and stimulating their metabolisms, both of which tend to result in weight loss.
One reason why nicotine is addictive has to do with the way it interacts with the neurotransmitter dopamine. Nicotine stimulates the release and extends the effect of dopamine on the brain. The initial hit of nicotine causes the smoker to experience pleasure and euphoria. However, those feelings may wear off within minutes, and this short-lived experience encourages smokers to dose themselves yet again in order to feel pleasure and prevent withdrawal symptoms.
A person who is addicted to nicotine may be at risk for a nicotine overdose. It's possible to overdose on nicotine by simultaneously utilizing several different products that contain nicotine. For example, a person using nicotine patches, chewing nicotine gum and smoking tobacco cigarettes at the same time may be at risk for a nicotine overdose. Some of the symptoms associated with a nicotine overdose include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fainting, and drooling. It is notable that due to the short half-life of approximately 2 hours, the user generally notices symptoms quickly.
Therapeutic Uses of Nicotine
Despite its potential to do harm, nicotine actually has several positive uses. Evidence seems to suggest that non-smokers are twice as likely as smokers to develop Parkinson's disease or Alzheimer's disease. Also, doctors are exploring whether or not nicotine has a positive effect on adults suffering from certain forms of epilepsy; the reasoning behind this is that certain kinds of epilepsy occur in the same parts of the brain that process nicotine. People with Crohn's disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease, benefit from the use of nicotine.
Nicotine can also be used to help people stop using tobacco products such as tobacco cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. Tobacco users find it difficult to quit using tobacco due to withdrawal symptoms. Typical nicotine withdrawal symptoms include increased appetite, depression, cravings, irritability, inability to concentrate, headaches, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. The first few days of nicotine withdrawal tend to be the worst; the cravings usually lessen after several weeks. By administering nicotine in alternate forms such as electronic cigarette cartridges, nasal sprays, lozenges, chewing gum and patches, tobacco users have alternative means to acquire the nicotine that they desire, allowing them to break the habit of cigarette smoking with less suffering.