With decades of anti-smoking propaganda and more than 480,000 deaths associated with smoking each year, it’s no surprise that the public has turned against the tobacco industry. The majority of Americans support public smoking bans, and according to a 2013 Gallup poll more than twenty percent (22%) want to prohibit its use entirely. Unfortunately, many people associate the hazards of smoking with nicotine and ignore the real dangers – the tar and the hundreds of toxic elements found in tobacco smoke. There is so much emphasis placed on the addictive nature of nicotine that it may leave you thinking it’s a worthless, harmful substance, but the truth is, nicotine DOES NOT CAUSE CANCER or
any other deadly diseases – in fact, it offers a wide range surprising benefits to users.
As a Mood Enhancer
Nicotine is a natural substance produced by plants in the nightshade family, including tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes and red peppers – but tobacco is the most abundant source. As a mood altering substance, nicotine has the ability to cause both stimulating and relaxing affects on the body. As a stimulant it causes a rush of epinephrine, commonly known as adrenaline, a hormone that produces a sudden burst of energy and gives nicotine users a feeling of increased alertness. It also stimulates the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s pleasure center.
As a relaxant, it enhances the feeling of calmness in users. Research at Duke University Medical Center found that nicotine can improve the symptoms of depression. In addition, low dose nicotine patches have been shown to be an effective treatment for major depressive disorder in non-smokers.
As an Appetite Suppressant
A National Institute of Health peer reviewed study showed that adult smokers weigh on average 4–5 kg less than nonsmokers, are less likely to be overweight or obese and tend to gain weight when they quit smoking. Former smokers will attest to the appetite suppressing qualities of nicotine, with many experiencing significant weight gain after successfully quitting – and studies confirm the anecdotal evidence. In 2004, a University of Melbourne study using mice demonstrated that one day’s exposure to nicotine reduced food intake dramatically; they also observed a 10% reduction in body weight.
As a Cognitive Booster
The list of neurological impairments that may eventually be treated with nicotine continues to be demonstrated in animal and human research. A 2012 study published in Neurology Today concluded that nicotine treatment was beneficial for patients with mild cognitive impairment, such as ADHD. In the study, transdermal nicotine patches were deemed safe, non-addictive and highly tolerable by nonsmoking patients, and subjects showed noticeable improvements in attention, memory, and mental processing, giving researchers hope that nicotine could one day be used to treat Alzheimer patients.
In addition, a number of studies suggest that nicotine may improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Although there are no definitive conclusions and clinical trials are ongoing, nicotine may ultimately play a role in developing an effective treatment for Parkinson’s.
Extensive studies in parkinsonian animals show that nicotine protects against nigrostriatal damage, findings that may explain the well-established decline in Parkinson’s disease incidence with tobacco use.
An Aid For Various Medical Conditions
It should come as no surprise that studies demonstrating the positive benefits of nicotine are often ignored by the media. We’ve already provided a few examples, but here’s a complete list medical conditions that may be positively impacted by the use of nicotine:
- Alzheimer’s Disease: Nicotine appears to interfere with a major process of Alzheimer’s, the formation of beta amyloid plaque that blocks cell-to-cell communication. Multiple studies have evaluated nicotine’s affect on Alzheimer’s and a majority show reduced risk for nicotine users.
- Blood Vessel Damage: In 2000, a study performed at Stanford revealed surprising results about nicotine’s effects on blood vessels. Contrary to popular opinion, the study showed that nicotine actually boosts the growth of new blood vessels. The discovery may lead to treatments for diabetes and to repair tissue damage caused by a variety of other conditions.
- Depression: Nicotine releases dopamine and serotonin, two vital neurotransmitters. A lack of these chemicals may lead to depression, which nicotine has been shown to improve.
- Digestive Disorders: Researchers have long noticed that ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammation of the colon and rectum, is mostly a disease of nonsmokers. Research suggests it can be used to help control and improve the condition, while it’s impact on Chron’s disease is still unclear.
- Joint Problems: A recent study tracked more than 11,000 Australians for approximately ten years. It found that the heaviest smokers were more than fifty percent less likely to require total joint replacement surgery than those who never smoked. After adjustments were made for other life factors, they concluded that nicotine protected user’s joints. Other studies have shown that nicotine stimulates joint cartilage and can help protect against osteoarthritis.
- Neurological Disorders: Shown to improve adult ADHD, nicotine may also help people with other neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s, Tourette’s syndrome and schizophrenia.
- Obesity: Nicotine is a proven appetite suppressant that assists with weight loss.
It’s Addictive Nature In Question
A variety of chemicals in cigarettes cause cancer and other deadly diseases – but nicotine IS NOT one of them. Although nicotine is blamed for being “highly addictive”, there are major differences between nicotine and other drugs such as alcohol, heroin and cocaine. Nicotine does not cause intoxication, it does not impair judgement, motor skills or the ability to get along with others. In fact, research on the addictive nature of nicotine – absent cigarette smoke – suggests that nicotine in not nearly as addictive as once thought. This is why nicotine replacement therapies, such as the patch and nicotine gum, are so ineffective. Many experts believe that the addictive nature of smoking comes from a combination of chemicals that interact with nicotine, and MAOI’s may be the main culprit.
Either way, nicotine is a drug and there are bound to be some risks, but the risks associated with nicotine are no different than those associated with other mild stimulants such as caffeine. Nicotine’s direct association with smoking has undoubtedly given it a bad rap, but research suggests that it has a legitimate role to play in the medical community, and possibly in the lives of nonsmokers.