Nicotine: facts, effects and addiction
The safety and long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes or other vaping products are not yet well known. In September 2019, federal and state health authorities began investigating a
Nicotine is a substance found in all tobacco products and some e-cigarette liquids. It is a highly addictive substance present in the tobacco plant. Laboratories can also produce nicotine synthetically.
People also use the substance as
Any product containing tobacco
This article discusses the history and effects of nicotine, its potential impact on health, and treatment options for nicotine addiction.
Nicotine comes from Nicotiana species, which are tobacco plants and are part of the nightshade family. Tobacco plants originated in South America before spreading to North America, Africa and Australia.
Native people in these regions originally used the leaves of tobacco plants for chewing, smoking, or use in religious rituals. European settlers exported tobacco crops for profit and changed the focus of tobacco to recreational use.
The tobacco industry has a
Tobacco companies have also disproportionately marketed menthol products to black people and low-income communities. Tobacco companies add menthol to cigarettes to make them more palatable.
The body quickly absorbs nicotine into the bloodstream so that it can reach the brain. Nicotine levels peak quickly after entering the body, so feelings of reward are short-lived. This can create a cycle of people continuing to smoke to continue experiencing the pleasurable sensations.
Nicotine also increases levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is part of the brain’s reward system and creates feelings of pleasure and reward. The release of dopamine reinforces a person’s behavior to take nicotine.
Frequent use of nicotine creates changes in the way the brain works in relation to self-control, stress, and learning. Long-term changes can lead to addiction and withdrawal symptoms when a person does not smoke.
Effects on cognitive function
Nicotine can also temporarily improve concentration and memory. However, long-term smoking may be linked to a decline in cognitive abilities and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, the short-term benefits on cognitive function do not outweigh the long-term risks of nicotine use.
When people stop using nicotine, they may experience withdrawal symptoms affecting their attention or memory. Withdrawal from heavy nicotine use can also lead to sleep disturbances.
Nicotine can affect various systems throughout the body and can cause:
Certain nicotine products may also have specific side effects. According to
A racing heartbeat may mean the nicotine dose is too high, and people can talk to a healthcare professional about lowering the dose.
Nicotine gum side effects may include:
Other nicotine products can also cause rapid heartbeat, jitters, and headaches. If a person thinks they may be the victim of nicotine poisoning, they should contact the poison control center or seek emergency medical help.
Nicotine can interact with other drugs or medications. Nicotine can make benzodiazepines less effective. If a person takes birth control pills, nicotine can increase the risk of blood clots.
Learn more about types of drug interactions here.
Nicotine is addictive and the main psychoactive substance in tobacco, meaning it impairs brain function. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), most smokers use tobacco regularly because of their addiction to nicotine.
Smoking is the
Nicotine does not cause cancer, but tobacco smoke contains at least 69 chemicals that are carcinogens, which means they are carcinogenic.
Are e-cigarettes and vaporizers safe?
Electronic nicotine delivery systems, which people may refer to as e-cigarettes or vaporizers, are small, handheld devices that heat liquid into vapor. The liquid usually contains nicotine, as well as solvents and flavorings.
Electronic cigarettes containing nicotine are not suitable for pregnant women, as nicotine can cause problems with prenatal development.
The FDA also warns against using any vaping product from an unknown source or purchased off the street. There have been over 1,000 reports of serious lung injury from the use of vaping products.
There are currently many unknowns regarding vaping, including the chemicals they may contain and their health effects.
If people are using e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking, other methods may be a better option.
According to NIDA, a 2020 survey found that about 23.6 million people aged 12 and older had been addicted to nicotine in the past 30 days. Treatment for nicotine addiction may include:
Nicotine replacement therapy
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) provides people with a small amount of nicotine that attaches to some of the body’s nicotine receptors to reduce nicotine cravings.
NRT may include nicotine patches, vaporizers, lozenges or gum. FDA-approved NRTs are the
Certain medications can also help treat nicotine addiction.
Bupropion is a drug that affects brain chemicals and is as effective as NRT in helping people quit smoking.
Varenicline is a drug that stimulates a specific nicotinic receptor but to a lesser extent than nicotine. It may be more effective than bupropion in helping people quit smoking.
Counseling and psychological support
Research suggests that a combination of NRT or quit smoking medications with behavioral treatment is more effective in helping people quit smoking.
People may choose to speak with a mental health professional for advice or use psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Mindfulness, help lines, automated text messages, and self-help materials can also help people quit smoking.
Nicotine is the highly addictive substance found in tobacco products and may be the reason many people use tobacco. It can cause side effects such as dizziness, rapid heartbeat, and headache.
It is also a toxic substance that can cause poisoning. If people suspect they have nicotine poisoning, they will need immediate medical help.
Nicotine can also cause people to use tobacco products such as cigarettes more often, which can lead to serious health problems.
Medications, nicotine replacement therapies, and behavioral treatments can help people stop using nicotine products.
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