written by: Meghalee

Nicotine is powerful alkaloid derived from a plant belonging to the nightshade family. It is also a very powerful neurotoxin and is a key substance in many pesticides because of its ability to kill insects immediately upon contact. This happens because nicotine can move directly into the blood vessels present in the tissues and then travel to the brain and other important organs of the body through the blood stream. Inhaling tobacco products like cigarettes is the most common ways by which nicotine can enter our system.

Studies show that nicotine does not stay in the human body for a very long time. It has a half-life of only one hour or so. In other words, when you smoke a tobacco cigarette, only 0.031 mg of nicotine remains in the body after six hours. In spite of this, we should understand in what way does nicotine affect our body:

1) Enters bloodstream: Nicotine easily enters our lungs when we inhale the smoke. The lung is made of millions of tiny air sacs called alveoli that allow the exchange of gases to occur. They are spread over a large area and because of this nicotine or any other harmful substance present in tobacco gets a greater chance to enter the passage to the body’s system. When it is absorbed by the lungs, the nicotine enters the bloodstream from where it travels to the brain and causes mood changes, both good and bad, and when they effect wears off it leads to irritability. The effects of nicotine can be felt very fast, usually within 10-15 seconds after inhalation.

2) Lowers risk of brain diseases: Although nicotine is known to cause immense damage to the lungs, recent research has found some positive elements in it. It has been seen that smokers usually have a very low incidence of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. This happens due to a compound called acetylcholine. The structure of nicotine is similar to a naturally occurring neurotransmitter. Nicotine binds with nerve receptors which leads the neurons to get stimulated more than usual.

In a study conducted on patients with Alzheimer’s, one group was given nicotine patches and the other was given a placebo. Those with the nicotine patch displayed better cognitive abilities and some even recovered their cognitive functions. It could also help to boost the neurons in the brains of the elderly. However, nicotine has some side effects in the long run because of which it cannot be used in treatment procedures.

3) Boosts new blood vessel growth: Most people believe that nicotine clogs up the blood vessels by accelerating the production of cholesterol in the body. But a study conducted in 2000 at Stanford showed that nicotine boosted the growth of new blood vessels. This opens up new possibilities on how diabetes can be treated. Patients with diabetes have poor blood circulation due to clogged blood vessels, which can potentially lead to gangrene and amputation of limbs. Nicotine can be used to counter this condition.

4) Reduces depression: According to a 2006 study at Duke University, when nicotine patches were given to people suffering from depression, they showed reduced levels of depressive feelings. This happens because nicotine leads to the increased production of two neurotransmitters: serotonin and dopamine. Those with depression have reduced amounts of these chemicals in their body, and nicotine can help boost their production. But it is not a practical solution because it is very difficult to separate the carcinogenic and toxic effects to the body. Moreover, those with previous ailments, will find their condition getting aggravated because of tobacco, cigarettes or nicotine patches. In such cases, electronic cigarettes can be beneficial because they deliver the nicotine elements without the harmful toxic substances.

5) Nicotine withdrawal: This is an uncomfortable condition often accompanied with nausea, headaches, anxiety, tremors, loss of concentration, mood swings and insomnia. The effects of nicotine withdrawal can last from a few days to weeks. It makes an addict crave the substance just as a drug addict craves heroine or cocaine. This results in excessive consumption of cigarettes, which can cause even more harm to the body.

The nicotine present in 3 to 4 cigarettes is enough to poison the organs of the human body and lead to abnormalities in behavior. Hence, it is very important that we make ourselves aware of the various effects of nicotine.

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