Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How Nicotine Affects The Mind

How Nicotine Affects the Brain


When nicotine is smoked through a cigarette, the drug is inhaled into the lungs, absorbed through the lungs and deposited directly into the bloodstream. From there, nicotine quickly reaches the brain and crosses the blood-brain barrier where it begins to change the way the brain functions. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this process takes up to eight seconds from the time the smoke enters the lungs to the time nicotine crosses into the brain. Nicotine can also reach the brain through the mucus membranes, as seen in the mouth with chewing, the nose with snuffing and the skin with nicotine patches.


Throughout your body are neurotransmitters and receptors. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals used in the body to relay signals between nerve cells. Each type of neurotransmitter fits a specific receptor. When the two combine, a specific reaction occurs in the body. Nicotine has the unique ability to copycat certain neurotransmitters' abilities to combine with receptors in the body. By doing so, it blocks the actual neurotransmitter's ability to bind with the receptor and causes the receptor to activate a cell to do something different than it is intended to do.


The first neurotransmitter that nicotine can mimic is called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is one of the most important neurotransmitters in the body. Once it attaches to cell receptors throughout the brain, it can cause and affect muscle movement, heart rate changes, breathing and even your ability to remember things. Since nicotine has the ability to attach to the same receptors in the brain that acetylcholine can, the attachment of nicotine can cause irregularities to occur. Some of these irregularities include an increase in heart rate and a change in the ability to focus. The connection may also give the nicotine user a quick burst of energy.


Acetylcholine can also trigger the release of other neurotransmitters and hormones when combined with specific cell receptors. This means that caffeine, too, has the ability to release these chemicals when mimicking acetylcholine. One of the most noticeable neurotransmitters that nicotine affects is dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter most associated with the brain's pleasure and rewards center. The additional release of dopamine by nicotine is believed to be the reason behind the addiction aspect of nicotine.


The more that a person uses nicotine products, the more nicotine that is available in the brain to release dopamine. The pleasure associated with the added dopamine in the bloodstream can quickly cause the brain to adapt to those levels of dopamine, causing an addiction. The more nicotine that is introduced to the body, the greater the brain builds a tolerance to the substance, requiring more nicotine to get the same dopamine high. Once the levels of nicotine are decreased or stopped completely, the brain reacts in withdrawal-causing symptoms, such as irritability, nausea, headache, insomnia and sore throat.

Related posts

    How Does Nicotine Affect the Brain?IntroductionAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco kills an estimated 440,000 Americans every year. With so many deaths related to...
    How Nicotine Enters the BodyIdentificationAs far back as 1988, the surgeon general identified nicotine as a highly addictive substance that closely resembles the addictive qualities of cocaine and...
    Nicotine is one of the primary components in tobacco, and it is a highly addictive drug. When tobacco smoke is inhaled, nicotine is absorbed into the blood stream and can affect the brain within s...
    How Does Nicotine Work?IntroductionAccording to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention & Health Promotion, Cigarettes are the number one most preventable cause of death in the Unit...
    How Does Nicotine Affect the Body?NicotineAn organic compound naturally found in the leaves of the tobacco plant, nicotine is readily absorbed by the human body--and highly addictive. Although nic...