Sunday, January 19, 2014

So How Exactly Does Nicotine Modify The Brain

How Does Nicotine Affect the Brain?


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco kills an estimated 440,000 Americans every year. With so many deaths related to tobacco, it can be puzzling why someone would continue to use the product. Much of the desire to continue using tobacco, regardless of the health risks, lies in it's most active ingredient nicotine and its effects on the brain.


Nicotine affects the brain by mimicking neurotransmitters. A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that allows brain cells to communicate. Each neurotransmitter is specifically designed to fit with a receptor on another nerve cell. Once the neurotransmitter locks into the receptor site, it activates the nerve cell and continues the message to the next cell. Nicotine mainly mimics two neurotransmitters called acetylcholine and dopamine.


Once nicotine enters the body and makes its way to the brain through the blood stream, one of the main areas that it can attach itself to is the receptor sites for acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter responsible for a variety of bodily operations including breathing, heart rate, muscle movement and cognition. Nicotine increases the activity of these receptor sites which is why many smokers feel an increase of energy or an increase in ability to concentrate directly after smoking a cigarette.


Nicotine can also lock into dopamine receptor sites. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter most known for feeling pleasure. It is commonly referred to as the "reward pathway" of the brain. Dopamine is designed to release a good feeling every time you do something that benefits the body such as eating or exercising. This reinforces the mind to want to repeat the action at a later time. The nicotine in tobacco products creates this same pleasurable feeling, reinforcing the need to continue smoking or using other tobacco products.


Nicotine can also trigger the brain to release endorphins. Endorphins are proteins that act as natural pain medicine for the body. The more nicotine that enters the blood stream, the greater potential for endorphins to be released.


With so many positive feelings associating themselves with nicotine use, the brain begins to become dependent on the product to keep the good feelings going. Over time the brain develops a tolerance to nicotine and requires more to achieve the same level of pleasure. This leads to addiction. If for some reason the nicotine is either temporarily or permanently held from the brain, the body will go into withdrawal symptoms. This includes depression, nausea, vomiting and irritability.

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