Thursday, January 23, 2014

So How Exactly Does Nicotine Work

How Does Nicotine Work?


According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention & Health Promotion, Cigarettes are the number one most preventable cause of death in the United States. More than 440,000 people die from cigarette-related deaths every year, according to the American Cancer Society. It can be hard to imagine why anyone would want to smoke after reading such statistics; However, the substances in one cigarette can be as addicting as illicit drugs. There can be as many as 4,000 chemicals in one cigarette, yet it is nicotine that causes the highest level of addiction.

What is Nicotine?

Nicotine is naturally found in the leaves of tobacco plants. When processed into a cigarette, there can be as much as 10 milligrams of nicotine present; however, only 1mg-2mg of nicotine actually makes it into the bloodstream. Nicotine in high enough doses can be exceptionally poisonous. Nicotine in its concentrated form is used as aninsecticide.

In the Body

Nicotine can make it into the body in a few different ways. The most common is inhalation through the lungs via cigarettes and orally through chewing tobacco. Nicotine can also be directly absorbed through the skin, i.e., a nicotine patch. Once the nicotine has been absorbed it makes its way directly into the bloodstream.


Once nicotine has entered the bloodstream it heads directly to the brain. Here is where nicotine has the greatest effect on the body. In your brain are chemical neurotransmitters called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine can affect a variety of brain functions including your energy and activity levels. Once nicotine reaches the brain it has an immediate effect on cholinergic neurons. This causes them to start producing acetylcholine at an increased rate. This burst of acetylcholine production gives the the brain and body a substantial boost of energy.


Along with an increase in energy, nicotine's stimulation of cholinergic neurons also causes the brain to increase the production of another neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for the "rewards pathway." An increase in dopamine around the synaptic gaps of the nerve cells can cause both a euphoric high, as well as an upswing in mood.


Nicotine also encourages the release of the neurotransmitter glutamate. Glutamate is responsible for the mind's ability to both learn and concentrate. This is why many smokers are able to focus better after they have had a cigarette.


Nicotine can also create an addiction causing the brain to become dependent on the chemical. Over time the brain slowly becomes accustomed to the increased levels of neurotransmitters being released and develops what is called a tolerance. Because of this tolerance the brain begins to require more nicotine to keep experiencing the same effects. Over time the brain becomes dependent on nicotine to function and can cause severe withdrawals once nicotine levels have been cut off, or even reduced.

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