If you think of the chemical nicotine as being interchangeable with tobacco, then you really don’t understand what it is. Nicotine is just one ingredient present in tobacco – and far in a way less harmful to the human body than so many of the other toxic, carcinogenic chemicals it comprises (in fact, nicotine’s harm appears to be negligible). It’s precisely for that reason why vaping e-liquids means you can consume nicotine but definitely not any of these other hazardous tobacco ingredients. To wit, let’s take a closer look at exactly what it is – and what it does to the human body…
What exactly is nicotine?
An alkaloid, nicotine is a nitrogenous organ compound. Occurring naturally in members of the nightshade plant family, which features the likes of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants – as well as, yes, tobacco plants – it can also be created synthetically in laboratories, of course.
How does it affect your body?
Following consumption into the body, it takes nicotine between just eight and 20 seconds to enter the bloodstream, as it crosses the blood-brain barrier into that most powerful of organs. This means that its several pharmacologic effects can occur rapidly; increased heart rate, muscle-oxygen-consumption rate and heart-stroke volume, resulting in the heart pumping larger doses of blood than normal. As such, the positive effects of nicotine include higher alertness and improved concentration and memory – and, for better or worse, it tends to cause relaxation and, to an extent, euphoria, as well as a release of dopamine and a surge in beta-endorphins in the brain, which can reduce anxiety.
What does research tell us about nicotine?
It’s been known now for very nearly 40 years that nicotine encourages the brain’s dopamine levels to rise; thanks to a 1979 study conducted by UCLA-based neurobiologist Marie-Françoise Chesselet – in fact, she discovered that even small doses of the chemical are capable of triggering dopamine release. Perhaps surprisingly – although because, it seems, of its über-stimulating effect – nicotine may also be able to inhibit Parkinson’s disease and it appears to deliver positive benefits for sufferers of other psychological disorders, including Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), Tourette’s syndrome and schizophrenia. In the case of the latter disorder and the effect of nicotine on its sufferers, studies conducted by psychologist Jennifer Rusted of the University of Sussex have found that, used as a medicinal drug, nicotine could help treat schizophrenia owing to its ability to cut out certain stimuli (or, rather, senses that quickly become overwhelming) for schizophrenics.
And what about nicotine dependence?
Owing to how relaxed and euphoric nicotine can make one feel, it’s relatively automatic for practically anyone to become dependent. And this means then that, yes, side effects are incurred when dependants don’t get their ‘fix’ (usually via a drag on a nicotine-featuring, tobacco-packed cigarette); most commonly, irritability. And, over the long term (i.e. while trying to quit ciggies), you’re talking the likes of cravings, as well as anger, insomnia and even depression.
Nowadays, of course, there are many products on the market that aim to deliver nicotine without the toxic combustion and so many carcinogens present in cigarettes; nicotine patches and gum led the field in this area for many years. However, the success wrought from these products in ensuring people quit tobacco have been mixed, to say the least, which is why so many people are turning in increasing numbers to vaping nicotine-featuring e liquid as an alternative quitting method. And that’s because, like the other products, vaping delivers controlled amounts of nicotine into your system without tobacco toxins, yet unlike nicotine patches and gum, is seeing ever improving results in getting people off cigarettes – and staying off the, at that.