The Healthier Alternative to Smoking
Smoking is one of the most common addictions suffered by people all over the world. It is the culprit responsible for many respiratory diseases and is a top risk factor for other illnesses leading to morbidity and mortality. What makes it so addicting? The secret lies in its nicotine content.
Since its discovery, researchers have worked on finding evidence to prove the link between nicotine use and certain diseases. These studies have proven one major thing: in the midst of the thousands of chemicals found in tobacco, they found nicotine as the main substance that is responsible for the cravings felt by smokers.
What is nicotine? Where does it occur naturally?
Nicotine, found organically in the nightshade plant family (Nicotiana tabacum, Asclepias syriaca, Duboisia hopwoodii, and Nicotiana rustica), is a potent stimulant drug and a parasympathomimetic alkaloid.
The plant was first discovered in 6000 B.C. in the Americas. People started to cultivate it and use its leaves for either chewing or smoking. Even back then, the use of tobacco was very controversial. People actually believed the plant had medicinal uses. In fact, during the Middle Ages, it was used against the ravages of the bubonic plague. However, around the 1600s, people began speculating a connection between using tobacco products and cancer.
How does nicotine affect the human body?
Science has shown us that nicotine affects the brain in several ways. First of all, nicotine stimulates “reward pathways” – these make up the system in the brain which is responsible for pleasure. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is the key chemical that mediates the urge to use drugs. According to research, nicotine increases dopamine levels in these pathways. Most tobacco users will experience long-term changes in the brain because of regular nicotine use, ultimately leading to addiction.
Nicotine also has pharmacokinetic properties. These increase the possibility for abuse. When you smoke a cigarette, there is a rapid release of dopamine into the nervous system. Within ten seconds of inhalation, the levels of the substance will peak. The immediate (acute) effects will disperse almost instantly, though, as well as the feelings of pleasure (reward) – this is why smokers feel the urge to continue dosing themselves with more, in order to maintain the pleasurable effects of the drug.
Why do addictions form?
Regular smokers keep on using tobacco because of nicotine addiction. Addiction is defined as a compulsive substance-seeking habit, often accompanied by abuse of the said substance. Most times, addicts will keep giving in to these urges despite facing detrimental side effects or health consequences. Many smokers recognize the harm in using tobacco – some even express wanting to stop the habit, or at least limit it. However, over 85% of these people are unsuccessful in their efforts, usually relapsing in a week’s time or so.
Current medical applications of nicotine
- The main therapeutic application of nicotine is in the treatment of nicotine dependence (addiction). To ultimately end smoking and the negative effects it has to the body, a person is given controlled nicotine levels in the form of dermal patches, gums, electronic cigarettes (vaping), or nasal sprays. This will safely wean the patient off of the dependence.
Even though the use of e-cigarettes has only been granted medical license in a small number of jurisdictions, many find vaping less harmful than smoking. Vaping, along with the other aforementioned therapies, has shown to increase quitting success rates to as much as 50-70%.
- Other clinical uses of nicotine include performance enhancement. Nicotine is used to enhance cognition, focus, and alertness. Studies have concluded that nicotine had positive effects on fine motor abilities including: episodic and working memory, orientation, attention, and alertness. In 2015, a review reported that certain nicotinic receptors, once activated, help improve attention – although these same receptors are the ones leading to addiction.
Clinical trials exploring nicotine use
Aside from the medical applications mentioned above, clinical trials and studies to explore more of nicotine’s possible uses are continuously underway.
- Acute intake of nicotine activates nicotine receptors, but if the intake is in low doses and for long periods of time, it can desensitize these receptors. The outcome is an antidepressant effect. Further studies show that patches with low dose of nicotine have been effective in treating major depressive disorders, especially with patients who don’t smoke. Still, it isn’t considered (or recommended) as major treatment for these cases because it poses negative overall effects to health.
- Smoking has been associated with increasing the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, but ironically, some research hypothesizes that nicotine can possibly prevent and treat the disease.
- Researchers tapped into “cotinine” – nicotine’s principal metabolite – and suggest that this metabolite is the primary mediator of nicotine’s psychoactive effects.
- In clinical studies performed on animals, there is some potential that nicotine can benefit Parkinson’s disease sufferers.
Nicotine in cigarettes VS nicotine in vape
On average, a cigarette stick contains about 2 milligrams of nicotine. This amount will produce stimulant effects (which are the main factors leading to addiction). In higher amounts (50 to 100 milligrams), adverse effects may take place.
It can be difficult to compare nicotine absorption between vaping and smoking actual tobacco. In a cigarette, not all of the nicotine is absorbed by the body. On the other hand, e-liquids (used for vaping) are measured in milligrams per millilitres (mg/ml). In theory, you can find out how much e-liquid you are vaping, although the inconsistencies between e-cigarette brands and devices are a major hindrance. For instance, using atomizers with only 3 mg/ml can give the same effects if you are using a cartomizer or starter kit with 12 mg/ml.
Unlike tobacco, vaping does not have a set “dosage”. It would take advanced chemistry and biology experts to be able to determine how many puffs would equate to one cigarette stick. Again, the differences between devices should be considered, too. Additionally, vapers often vape in significantly smaller amounts than smokers would with cigarettes. This is why many former smokers consider vaping less harmful than smoking.
Here is a rundown of the different nicotine amounts that you can choose from if you are thinking of vaping.
- 12 to 18 mg/ml – this recommended for heavy smokers. It is common for first-timers to get more nicotine than expected, which can create an initially unsettling feeling. Also, the “buzz” or “high” that cigarette smokers are used to might be sensationally different compared to that from vaping. In order to track how much you have vaped, a lot of devices now have “puff counters” or other similar features.
- 6 mg/ml – this is a good option for formerly light to moderate cigarette smokers. More often, former smokers who find vaping less harmful than smoking use this nicotine strength. Those who are switching from nicotine gums or patches to vaping also prefer this strength.
- 3 mg/ml – people who vape with this amount of nicotine only really vape for the habit and feeling of vaping, simply for the sake of it. The nicotine content is already too low to create significant buzz.
- Zero nicotine content – this the perfect option for anyone who deliberately chooses to vape without the effects of nicotine.
Without question, getting nicotine from smoking tobacco is dangerous. The long list of negative health effects it causes is enough reason to think of taking care of one’s body and quitting smoking altogether. This is easier said than done. Fortunately, there are choices available for former smokers to make the transition more easily. Experts consider vaping less harmful than smoking, even recommending it as a rehabilitation tool for smokers and tobacco addicts.