The Power of Nicotine

Nicotine is a natural insecticide that comes from the family of nightshade plants, including the tobacco plant. Purified nicotine was used by farmers many years ago as an insecticide, until it was found toxic to humans. It takes only 60 mg of nicotine to kill a human being. So why do people still smoke?

The World Health Organization estimates that one-third of the world’s population of 7 billion people smoke tobacco on a regular basis.  The average cigarette yields 2 mg of absorbed nicotine in the body and a regular smoker can take 60,000 hits of nicotine in a year. Despite it’s a poison at high doses, low doses of nicotine are addictive. When smoked, nicotine-rich blood reaches the brain within 7 seconds. Nicotine works in the brain by binding to receptors that cause an increase in alertness and arousal. The Dopamine-producing neurons promote craving. Nicotine overstimulates the craving circuit to expect a big reward. This system can be activated by perceiving the cues associated with smoking such as seeing a pack of cigarettes, a bar, or smelling smoke.

Tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemicals that are inhaled into the lungs and absorbed into the body. Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and the number one killer of Americans. It is the third leading cause of death from chronic lower respiratory disease. Chewing tobacco is a major mouth cancer risk.

About 35% try to stop smoking each year, but less than 5% succeed. Withdrawal symptoms include: irritability, stress, depression, insomnia, anxiety, decreased heart rate, increased appetite, weight gain, and problems with concentration. The US Surgeon General has said, “Smoking cessation represents the single most important step that smokers can take to enhance the length and quality of life.”  The nicotine content of American cigarettes increased in the late 1900s and early 2000s. By 2012, smoking cigarettes declined to 20.5% of men and 15.3% of women. Millions of smokers want to quit and haven’t been able to quit. Many of these people need professional help and treatment to attain permanent abstinence from nicotine. Available treatments include: behavior therapy, medications, and nicotine patches. It is generally accepted that failed quit attempts are part of the road to permanent abstinence. Nicotine is one of the most powerful addictions and that is the reason why some people can’t quit without help.

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