Even with vaping now dominating large portions of the market, many people still think of the risks of nicotine and smoking as one in the same
Nicotine is often thought of as a dangerous substance at the very heart of what makes smoking dangerous. The truth is that nicotine alone is more similar to caffeine than most drugs. But regardless, the risks of nicotine are often confused with the dangers of smoking. The growth of vaping has only highlighted the fact that so many people consider nicotine and tobacco synonymous regarding risk. Luckily, this means that researchers are finally starting to test the effects of nicotine when isolated from the well-known dangers of smoking. Research published thus far indicates there is a lot more to the story than initially thought.
Nicotine’s Intended Effect
The substance known as nicotine is found naturally in several varieties of plants and vegetables, including eggplant and potatoes. But it’s only found in high concentrations in tobacco plants. As such they have always served as the only viable source of nicotine. Even today, all the nicotine found in cigarettes, as well as vape juice is produced using the Nicotiana Rustica strain of tobacco plants. Although researchers are currently working on synthetic versions of nicotine that may potentially help companies avoid the FDA’s deeming rules altogether.
Nicotine itself serves as both a stimulant and relaxant in the brain. It’s widely understood that nicotine use can create a robust reward response, suppress hunger, as well as relieve stress and focus attention. These side-effects have been self-reported by smokers for as long as people have been asking, but recently peer-reviewed research has backed up this classic anecdotal stance. One of the most significant factors on the extent of nicotine’s effect on the body is the delivery system and not nicotine itself.
Ingesting too much nicotine causes headaches and nausea, but most smokers and vapers never ingest enough for it to be harmful since they stop once adverse side effects rear their head. The one group who is at an increased risk from nicotine is children. While it would take a reported 600mg of nicotine (debated between 60mg and 1000mg) to be fatal for an adult, much less can, and has, caused death for young children. This makes it very important to take the necessary precautions when storing concentrated nicotine in your home if children will ever be present.
Addiction and Side Effects
It’s still relatively unclear how addictive nicotine by itself is because most studies on the addictiveness of nicotine have used smoking as their testing source. But starting with the research behind nicotine replacement therapies such as patches and gum, the FDA has noted that nicotine alone does not produce enough of an effect to be particularly addictive. This is why they allow these devices to be freely sold over the counter without excessive worry that non-smokers will pick them up. Dr. Paul Newhouse, who studies the effect of nicotine at Vanderbilt University said, “People won’t smoke without nicotine in cigarettes, but they won’t take nicotine by itself. Nicotine is not reinforcing enough. That’s why FDA agreed nicotine could be sold over the counter. No one wants to take it because it’s not pleasant enough by itself.” One possible explanation for this drop in addictiveness is the lowered rate of absorption by the brain. When smoking, it only takes as little as seven seconds for nicotine to reach the brain. Whatever the case though, it’s clear that nicotine alone is not very addictive, despite its public reputation.
The unintended side effects of nicotine have similarly been tied to smoking for many years. It was always believed that nicotine contributes to the heart damage caused by smoking. But new research indicates that nicotine alone may actually promote the growth of new blood vessels. This theory places the cardiovascular issues associated with smoking on the carbon monoxide which limits the ability of cells to carry and disseminate oxygen. Additionally, it is becoming popular belief among researchers that the reduction in risk of Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases among cigarettes smokers may actually be attributable to nicotine. Researchers believe that stimulation of nicotinic receptors in the brain can actually repair or prevent cognitive impairment.
Nicotine has suffered from a undeserved bad reputation for far too long. It’s been known for many years now that nicotine alone is not very addictive, and even holds some key benefits not found in other places. In spite of this, the general public still overwhelmingly assumes that the dangers of nicotine and smoking go hand in hand. This is simply untrue. Most doctors agree that nicotine’s effect on the body is most closely associated with that of caffeine. It’s important that we continue to inform people who misunderstand the true nature of nicotine. Especially in the case of vaping, nicotine has the potential to do a lot more good than harm. It just needs to be better understood.
Did you previously associate the risks of nicotine with the dangers of smoking? Do you think that it’s important to make clear the distinction between their risks? How do you think that we can improve the poor public perception of nicotine? Let us know in the comments.