Thursday, January 16, 2014

So How Exactly Does Nicotine Modify The Body

How Does Nicotine Affect the Body?


An organic compound naturally found in the leaves of the tobacco plant, nicotine is readily absorbed by the human body--and highly addictive. Although nicotine can enter the body through the skin or mucous membranes in the nose or mouth, most people ingest nicotine by smoking cigarettes.

Smoking nicotine delvers it efficiently into the lungs, which are lined with tiny alveoli. These alveoli normally exchange oxygen with carbon dioxide and nitrogen in normal respiration. When cigarette smoke is inhaled into the lungs, nicotine travels through the alveoli into the bloodstream, and within 15 seconds, is transported through the body and into the brain.

Nicotine in the Body

At first, nicotine causes the body to release adrenaline. Adrenaline causes heart rate and blood pressure to spike, and makes your body release insulin--which fools the body into thinking there is excess glucose in the bloodstream (because of this, smokers often report a decrease in their appetite).

Inhaled smoke has other effects on the body: Carbon monoxide damages the lungs and artery walls, weakening them and increasing the potential for heart attack, stroke and blood clots.

Nicotine in the Brain

It's in the brain that nicotine does its most work and damage. There are millions of neurons, cells that transfer information throughout the nervous system. Between two neurons is the synapse, across which information is sent. One neuron releases a chemical called a neurotransmitter, which binds to the next neuron in the "chain." This chain sets in motion the body's response to new information.

Nicotine binds itself onto a subset of neurons that usually bind the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, blocking the acetylcholine from being able to broadcast its specific, usual messages that concern muscle movement and energy level. When nicotine blocks these receptors, it causes the body to release more acetylcholine in an attempt to find synapses to which it can attach. This extra acetylcholine then signals the brain to release another neurotransmitter, dopamine (which controls the pleasure center of the brain). As the increased levels of acetylcholine make the person feel more alert, the increased level of dopamine makes the person feel relaxed.

But these are not the only 2 ingredients in the nicotine-caused brain "cocktail." The high levels of acetylcholine and dopamine signal the release of endorphins and glutamate. Endorphins produce a feeling of happiness while glutamate, which is involved in creating memories, takes a snapshot of the process, associating it with pleasant feelings that encourage further use and, ultimately, addiction.

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