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What is nicotine?

what is nicotine

Nicotine is a chemical compound produced naturally in the nightshade family of plants. It is in alkaloid which accumulates in the leaves of the tobacco plant and to a much lesser degree in potatoes, aubergine and tomatoes1. It is found in cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, wet and dry snuff, E-cigarettes, most vaping juices and heat not burn devices.

How does nicotine work and affect the body?

how nictoine works

When tobacco smoke or vapour is inhaled, nicotine is absorbed through the mucosal linings in the nose, mouth and lungs and travels through the bloodstream to the brain. When sniffed, snussed (via pouches) or chewed it is absorbed through membranes in the mouth and nose. It then travels through the body, via the bloodstream to the brain. It is also possible to absorb it through the skin.

When smoked nicotine reaches the brain in about seven seconds2. It is about the same when vaped, around 8-20 seconds. Nicotine reaches the central nervous system in about 3-5 minutes when tobacco is chewed.

Neuroscience still hasn’t fully understood how nicotine affects the brain or how addiction works but more is being learnt all the time.

Is there a high?

Some smokers claim that the feeling of dizziness or light-headedness after they haven’t smoked for a while is like a “high” – but when you think about it – it isn’t is it? It’s just dizzy and you can get exactly the same feeling by spinning around on the spot for ten seconds. 

Does it help with depression and anxiety?

Some people claim that smoking helps with depression and anxiety but if this were true then surely smokers would be less anxious and less depressed than non-smokers? Yet research shows the exact opposite – that they are much more anxious and more depressed than non-smokers. Tragically there’s no doubt that a good portion of people who live with depression and anxiety are drawn into smoking by the flawed belief that nicotine might help them handle their condition – that’s all part of the brainwashing.

What about dopamine?

Humans are programmed to seek out dopamine elevating activities to ensure good health, happiness and longevity/survival. Examples are making love, eating, listening to music, hugging children/animals/your partner/a friend, socialising, and exercising. These are natural/normal/healthy activities/behaviours that the normally functioning “reward system” is designed to re-enforce.

Back when smoking was at its peak, we didn’t know how nicotine and other drugs affected the brain. Since then we have learned a great deal about a function of the brain known colloquially as reward pathways.

In the brain dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter – a chemical released by neurons (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve cells. The reward pathways play a major role in the motivational component of reward-motivated, or re-enforced behaviour. Can you imagine the disruption that can be caused to this natural, instinctive process by the introduction of a highly addictive drug, one which appears to relieve the discomfort created by the first dose, and every subsequent dose?

In 2019 one of the world’s leading academics in the field of nicotine addiction, Professor Robert West stated publicly, “Nicotine causes dopamine release by nerve cells that make up the “reward system” in the brain, including the nucleus accumbens– a part of the brain involved in learning to do things. The dopamine release tells the brain to pay attention to the situation and what the smoker was just doing – and do the same thing next time they’re in that same situation. So, a link is forged between the impulse to smoke and situations in which smoking normally happens”. Importantly, Professor West went on to add, “Crucially, the smoker doesn’t have to feel any pleasure or enjoyment for this to work.”

A smoker’s first experience of nicotine is normally at worst extremely unpleasant, and at best, a little unpleasant. For the sake of understanding this, smokers have to ignore the feelings aroused by the circumstances surrounding their first cigarette; the peer pressure & praise, the feeling of rebelliousness, the feeling of fitting in, the sense of appearing stylish, sophisticated, or macho. None of those are caused by the introduction of nicotine to the body, they’re all to do with the environment.

So, most smokers remember the physical effect of their first cigarettes as being unpleasant and this alone disproves any notion that nicotine’s initial introduction to the body and brain caused “pleasure”. Whatever impact nicotine has on dopamine levels when first introduced to the body – it’s certainly not pleasurable. In fact, most peoples’ first cigarette is so unpleasant and unrewarding it convinces them that they could never become addicted. The reason smokers develop a deep-seated belief that smoking IS pleasurable is explained by Professor West perfectly.

Nicotine withdrawal is the result of the first ever cigarette a nicotine addict smoked. It is momentarily “relieved” by the next cigarette. The brain concludes, non-consciously, “next time you feel nicotine withdrawal – do that again!”. In other words, the behaviour of lighting a cigarette in response to experiencing nicotine withdrawal is reinforced every time a smoker lights a cigarette regardless of the fact that the next cigarette will also cause nicotine withdrawal.

Whether a smoker is in a happy situation, a concentration situation, a sad situation, a stress situation, a relaxing situation, a boring situation, or a lonely situation they simultaneously experience nicotine withdrawal, and respond by lighting a cigarette, thereby immediately feeling better than a moment before and oblivious to the fact that that cigarette will perpetuate nicotine withdrawal once it is smoked .

It’s no wonder they think cigarettes help them to be happy or to concentrate, or to cope with sadness and stress, and to help them relax or cope with boredom or loneliness! It’s got nothing to do with genuine pleasure or genuine improvement of mood. And every single time they light a cigarette in one of those situations – the brain concludes, non-consciously, “next time that happens – do that again!”.

Non-smokers don’t have to deal with any of the mental and physical aggravation of being addicted to nicotine. They don’t suffer nicotine poisoning, nicotine withdrawal or the aberrational/unnatural impact nicotine has on dopamine and their behaviour.

Smoking damages your heart and your blood circulation, increasing the risk of conditions such as coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease (damaged blood vessels) and cerebrovascular disease (damaged arteries that supply blood to your brain).

Once in the brain it mimics acetycholine a natural neurotransmitter which naturally occurs in the brain activating particular types of acetycholine receptors.

Acetycholine is known to help maintain healthy respiration, heart function, muscle movement and cognitive function such as memory.

Nicotine increases adrenaline which in turn increases blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate4.

Is nicotine an addictive drug?

easyway to quit drugs

A drug is defined as a medicine or a substance which has a psychological effect after being ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.

Nicotine is a highly addictive drug. You can suffer from cigarette addiction otherwise known as smoking addiction, or you can suffer from vaping addiction. Of course any product that contains nicotine will be addictive, including nicotine patches and gum, inhalators, lozenges, mouth sprays, nose sprays, chewing tobacco (or dip), and snus (otherwise known as pouches).

Addiction is the term commonly applied to maladaptive drug seeking behaviour, often taken despite knowledge of negative health consequences5. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that nicotine meets the established criteria for a drug that produces addiction, specifically, dependence and withdrawal.

Nicotine dependence is an anomaly. Although the phrase is commonly used by doctors and academics it is a statement of fact that no-one is dependent on nicotine. No-one needs nicotine in order to function properly. The fact is that nicotine makes addicts FEEL dependent on it. This is a very different state of affairs to BEING dependent on it

Why is nicotine addictive?

As explained above nicotine changes how the brain functions. Whether one has a smoking addiction, in the form of cigarette addiction, or one vapes, chews, or snusses, regular intake of nicotine changes the number of cholinergic receptors and their sensitivity. This leads to nicotine tolerance.

In fact Nicotine addiction, often described as nicotine dependence, is at least as addictive as heroin and cocaine per the US Surgeon General6.

Nicotine withdrawal is the result of the first ever cigarette a nicotine addict smoked. It is momentarily “relieved” by the next cigarette. The brain concludes, non-consciously, “next time you feel nicotine withdrawal – do that again!”. In other words, the behaviour of lighting a cigarette in response to experiencing nicotine withdrawal is reinforced every time a smoker lights a cigarette regardless of the fact that the next cigarette will also cause nicotine withdrawal.

Whether a smoker is in a happy situation, a concentration situation, a sad situation, a stress situation, a relaxing situation, a boring situation, or a lonely situation they simultaneously experience nicotine withdrawal, and respond by lighting a cigarette, thereby immediately feeling better than a moment before and oblivious to the fact that that cigarette will perpetuate nicotine withdrawal once it is smoked.

It’s no wonder they think cigarettes help them to be happy or to concentrate, or to cope with sadness and stress, and to help them relax or cope with boredom or loneliness! It’s got nothing to do with genuine pleasure or genuine improvement of mood. And every single time they light a cigarette in one of those situations – the brain concludes, non-consciously, “next time that happens – do that again!”.

Non-smokers don’t have to deal with any of the mental and physical aggravation of being addicted to nicotine. They don’t suffer nicotine poisoning, nicotine withdrawal or the aberrational/unnatural impact nicotine has on dopamine and their behaviour.

How long does it take to get addicted to nicotine?

It takes just one puff of one cigarette, cigar, pipe, vape, or joint with tobacco in, to cause someone to become addicted8. The same goes for snus and chewing tobacco.

There have been many studies conducted looking at all the different parameters such as gender, social structure, socioeconomic variables, parental and peer smoking, academic achievement, ethnicity, mental health, and many others to see how these affected chances of nicotine addiction. Research now postulates that the progression is essentially universal7.

How long does nicotine take to leave the body?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that around 2 hours after ingesting nicotine the body will have removed half of it. It will take several weeks to become very low.

Read more about the health benefits of quitting and timeframe

Nicotine side effects

What does nicotine do to your body?

Nicotine is the fundamental cause of addiction among tobacco users. Nicotine adversely affects many organs as shown in human and animal studies. Its biological effects are widespread and extend to all systems of the body including cardiovascular, respiratory, renal and reproductive systems. Nicotine has also been found to be carcinogenic in several studies. It promotes tumorigenesis by affecting cell proliferation, angiogenesis and apoptotic pathways. It causes resistance to the chemotherapeutic agents. Any substantive beneficial effect of nicotine on human body is yet to be proven.9

Is nicotine bad for you?

Undoubtedly, nicotine is bad for you. It doesn’t occur naturally in our diet (other than tiny traces in aubergine/eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, and green peppers). Nicotine is poisonous and can easily kill when consumed in large doses. As little as 1 teaspoon of liquid nicotine, as used in vape juice, can be fatal for the average 26-pound toddler.10

Negative effects of nicotine

Aside from health issues – being addicted to nicotine in any form isn’t fun. It controls what the addict does, when they do it, and how they feel when they’re doing it. The impact of nicotine addiction, and repeated failed attempts to break it, causes issues with self-esteem, self-respect, as well as relationships. This is all quite aside from the costs involved.

Dangers of nicotine

There are the health risks, the cost, the slavery of being addicted, the risk of overdose, as well as the impact on the body of whatever carrier is used to deliver the nicotine (cigarettes, vape, chewing tobacco etc).

Nicotine health risks

Nicotine is highly addictive as shown above and has many side-effects not least the desire to smoke cigarettes, chew tobacco or vape.

The side-effects connected with smoking and vaping are covered in a separate page side effects of smoking.

Nicotine side effects11-17

Blood circulation

Taking nicotine results in blood vessels constricting and narrowing, limiting the blood that flows to your organs as well as thickening of the blood.

Short term

  • Increased tendency to clot
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate

Long term

  • Atherosclerosis (plaque forms on the artery wall)
  • Increase in size of aorta

 

Brain

Taking nicotine affects the efficiency of the limbic and paralimbic and paralimbic areas of the brain. These regions are responsible for attention, memory and learning.

Short term

  • Dizziness
  • Poor sleeping

Long term

  • Bad dreams and nightmares
  • Headaches

 

Heart

Taking nicotine results in blood vessels constricting and narrowing, limiting the blood that flows to the heart.

Short term

  • Chest pain
  • Uneven heartbeats

Long term

  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Constriction of the coronary artery

 

Gastrointestinal system

Nicotine interacts with all parts of the digestive system leading to many harmful effects.

Short term

  • Hiccups or belching
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea

Long term

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Ulceration

 

Reproductive system

Nicotine damages all parts of the reproductive system in both men and women including the genetic material of sperm cells.

Short term

  • Sperm and semen quality suffer
  • Egg cells damage
  • Affects the menstrual cycle making it more irregular

Long term

  • Decrease the sperm count
  • Reduction in the volume of sperm
  • Changes to cervical mucus (affects how sperm reaches the egg)
  • Problems with fallopian tubes
  • Infertility in both men and women

 

Other

Taking nicotine has harmful effects on other parts of the body not least the respiratory system.

Short term

  • Throat or mouth soreness
  • Watery eyes or mouth
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Suppression of the immune system

Long term

  • Changes in taste
  • Wheezing
  • Narrowing of the lung airways
  • Development of emphysema
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Increased risk of developing cataracts
  • Increased risk of chronic kidney disease

 

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What is Allen Carr’s Easyway? – short video with subtitles

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Clinically Proven Method

Allen Carrs easyway is clinically proven and drug free

The Allen Carr’s Easyway method has been clinically proven in two randomised controlled trials. The results show it to be as good as, if not better than the UK’s Gold standard NHS 1-1 Quit Smoking Service1 and almost twice as effective as the Irish Governments Quit.it service2 . It does not require the use of any drugs or nicotine products.

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Easyway doesn’t focus on the downsides of smoking and vaping – you know all about those already. Instead the method answers the question “what’s so great about being a smoker/vaper?” Understanding that is the key to being set free.

There a number of wasy of using the Allen Carr’s Easyway method choose the right one for you.

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References:

  1. Harm reduction in nicotine addiction: helping people who can’t quit. A report by The Tobacco Advisory Group at the Royal College of Physicians London, Royal College of Physicians, 2007
  2. Chen Li-Lun FDA summary of adverse reports on electronic cigarettes (2013) 15(2): 615-616 Nicotine Tob Res 2013:15;615-6
  3. Balfour DJK The role of mesoaccumbens dopamine nicotine dependence Curr Top Behav Neurosci 2015; 24:55-98
  4. Hoffman D, Hoffman I The changing cigarette,1950-1955 J Toxic Environ Health 1997;50(4):306-364
  5. World Health Organisation Report on gender, women and the tobacco epidemic
  6. Preventing tobacco use among young people: reporting certain general. Centers for disease control and prevention, National Center for chronic disease prevention health promotion 1994 & US Department of health and human services. The health consequences of smoking: nicotine addiction: report to the Surgeon General 1988
  7. DiFranza, Rigotti, McNeill initial symptoms of nicotine dependence in adolescence. Tobacco control.2000;9:413-318
  8. Scragg, Wellman diminished autonomy over tobacco can appear with the first cigarettes. Addictive behaviours.2008;33:689-698
  9. A Mishra, P Chaturvedi, S Datta, S Sinukumar Harmful effects of nicotine Indian J Med Paediatr Oncol. 2015 Jan-Mar; 36(1): 24–31
  10. Nicotine Poisoning: Can You Overdose? WebMD
  11. The hazardous effects of tobacco smoking on male fertility Jing-Bo Dai, Zhao-Xia Wang, and Zhong-Dong Qiao Asian J Androl. 2015 Nov-Dec; 17(6): 954–960
  12. How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease: A Report of the Surgeon General Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US); National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (US); Office on Smoking and Health (US). Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US); 2010
  13. Harmful effects of nicotine Aseem Mishra, Pankaj Chaturvedi, Indian J Med Paediatr Oncol. 2015 Jan-Mar; 36(1): 24–31
  14. Smoking and the Digestive System National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney diseases
  15. Smoking and Respiratory Diseases John Hopkins 
  16. Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking Center for Disease Control and Prevention
  17. What are the health risks of smoking? NHS
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