Published on May 22nd, 2013 | by Joe Starks0
Know Your Substances: Nicotine
Nicotine is a substance which is created in the roots of plants and accumulates in their leaves. Members of the nightshade family of plants form it. You might know it through your cigarette packets, because it is actually the reason why people smoke. Nicotine is what makes smocking pleasurable and addictive. All other components of cigarettes are just bulk, which at best add some flavor and in the worst case are known carcinogenic substances. So what about nicotine alone? Is it as bad as all the other things in tobacco? Does it too cause cancer? Is it safe in its pure form? Let’s get some facts down!
What is nicotine and what are its side-effects?
Nicotine is a liquid alkaloid, which as mentioned above is derived from the leaves of plants that belong in the nightshade family. Tobacco comes from a plant named Nicotiana Tabacum (for obvious reasons!) We can consume the nicotine either by chewing the leaves of the tobacco plant or through smoking them. The pleasure we get from tobacco is all due to nicotine and no other of the hundreds of ingredients in it.
Nicotine makes us feel a mild euphoria, because it gets directly into our nervous system. There nicotine merges with what we call the nicotine receptors to make us feel good. By merging with the nicotine receptors you get an automatic high, like the ones the body releases when you have done something rewarding for your body or mind. Nicotine can simulate a mild stimulation like getting a good rest, doing a small meditation or even taking a tiny break from a taxing task. This is why smokers get addicted to tobacco. The effect of nicotine is not big enough to feel unnatural or shocking, like you’d feel with cocaine for instance, which means that it can be easily implemented into an ordinary life.
Sadly, there are some effects we don’t realize when we first start smoking. Only in the long term we see the effects on our social, fiscal and daily lives.
Before we speak of the physical effect nicotine has on us in the long term, we should look at the socioeconomic one. Becoming addicted to nicotine can have a heavy toll on your lifelong finances. One packet of cigarettes might seem cheap, but a lifetime of smoking could have earned you a higher quality of life if you used the money more productively instead. Socially, you join the group of smokers when you start smoking yourself. This means your mouth’s hygiene will be worse, the air around you will often be polluted for your fellow humans and you won’t be able to do as you like because you will have that added need to constantly find cigarettes. This means you can’t go on spontaneous trips or do something fun in places where you can’t smoke unless you come packing with your cigs. It becomes a dominating part of your life, by which many will judge your whole being.
Now to the physical effects of nicotine consumption: The main effect that nicotine has on your body is that it releases adrenaline into the bloodstream. This adrenaline is the equivalent that you would have gotten naturally in your bloodstream if you jumped up in fright or saw a very attractive lady. Adrenaline causes more sugar to be released into your blood, causing hyperglycemia. It also lowers insulin levels, stopping the hyperglycemia from going away. This gives you a small rush of energy, but in the long run damages your arteries because more of the bad cholesterol runs through your blood for longer.
When nicotine reaches the brain, it takes the place of our natural acetylcholine and enters its receptors, which are called nicotine receptors, because they were first discovered thanks to smoking! The body is very careful in how much acetylcholine it allows to be released, while nicotine is a foreign substance you add in whatever amounts you want. This means that the natural effect of acetylcholine, which is to regulate muscles, heart rate and behavior, is taken over by the nicotine you consume. While your brain knows when your body really needs acetylcholine to work better, sadly we as people can’t judge that, and this inescapably leads us to overdosing ourselves just to feel an unreasonable euphoria.
Nicotine is very addictive, not because it causes great euphoria or because it is extremely painful to withdraw from, but because it is very convenient and mild. Only 7% of the 35 million people who try to stop smocking achieve to do so for a whole year. Most will relapse within days, preferring not to prevent life-threatening disease in favor of a mild pleasure.
Because most people take their nicotine through smoking tobacco, you also have to consider that together with your little mood boosted you get a whole bunch of junk substances into your body, some of which are radioactive and other that are used as pesticides.
Nothing about nicotine is worth the fuss. It makes you a worse athlete, a less fun friend and a poorer person. A good idea to cut it out of your life is to substitute it with a healthy life-improving activity like a sport or a hobby, which might give you the same pleasure without the nasty side-effects.