Nicotine has long been stigmatized due to its association with smoking; however, nicotine can be consumed in many ways. Now that you have an understanding of what it is and where it comes from, it’s time to move on to more important matters: What does nicotine do to the body and the brain?
What Does Nicotine Do to the Body?
The frequency of nicotine use and the type of delivery system has an impact on how much nicotine is absorbed into the body. Regardless of amount, nicotine only remains detectable for about 2-11 hours after absorption. A metabolite of nicotine ,called cotinine, can linger in the blood, saliva, hair and urine for longer. Genetics, age and diet play a role in how fast these chemicals are metabolized.
In some states, employers can require employees to not use tobacco, even outside of work. So how do employers monitor tobacco use outside of the job? They use a nicotine or cotinine test, which presents some issues since some non-tobacco products contain nicotine. While nicotine testing for employment to promote smoke-free workplaces is controversial, it is legal.
The Short-Term Effects of Nicotine
Nicotine’s short-term effects are comparable to caffeine. Both chemicals cause a brief rise in blood pressure and heart rate. If chronic, these symptoms are linked to cardiovascular issues, yet research on nicotine patches has shown no ties between nicotine use and health problems like cancers or heart disease. Smoking or chewing tobacco is certainly dangerous, but consumption of nicotine by itself appears to be as harmless as drinking coffee.
Related: The Similarities Between Nicotine and Caffeine
The consumption of nicotine also increases blood glucose levels. This is thought to be the result of the increase in adrenalin levels, which stimulate the liver to release glucose. This is why nicotine intake is often associated with weight loss. The rise in blood glucose levels increases the metabolic rate, which leads to reduced appetite.
What Does Nicotine Do to the Brain
It only takes about 10 to 20 seconds after inhalation for nicotine to start working to release dopamine. Dopamine supplies a sense of relaxation despite the stimulative effects of nicotine on the brain. New research has even uncovered therapeutic uses for nicotine. Controlled doses of the substance have been used to treat Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Tourette’s and schizophrenia. When used as treatment in research studies on Alzheimer’s, nicotine has shown to significantly improve attention, memory and psychomotor speed. Nicotine receptors also facilitate the entry of calcium into cells, so nicotine is believed to increase intracellular calcium, which in turn supports cell survival.
Studies on nicotine have not resulted in participants becoming addicted to nicotine patches, nor did patients experience withdrawal. This fact supports the theory that other chemicals in tobacco products play a larger role in addiction. Since most effects of nicotine on the body are temporary, it remains to be seen whether or not medicinal nicotine would work in the long term.
The More You Know About Nicotine…
Knowledge is your greatest asset for protecting your health. Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths about what nicotine does to the body, but hopefully this series helps clear up most of them. In Part 4, we’ll take a look at nicotine overdose and the symptoms of nicotine poisoning.