Nicotine (Cigarette smoking)

Time immemorial

Smoking is well known to have been initiated nearly in 5000 BC. It has cultural affiliations, is practiced in some parts of India as a religious ritual (along with cannabis) and is also often associated with socio-economic class (cigars and pipes of the affluent, cigarettes in the moderately wealthy and beedis in the least well off). The initial reports of smoking fresh leaves of nicotinia tabacum have been often been connected with transcendence and self-realization. Perceptions of smoking vary from stylish to sinful, vulgar to condescending, religious to hazardous and relaxing to sickening.

Not so lesser of the evils

Contrary to popular belief, nicotine is one of the most highly addictive drugs, at par with cocaine, heroin or brown sugar. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates over a billion smokers worldwide. Reports say that in the west, smoking is on the decline but in developing countries, it is steadily increasing. Frequently called the ‘gateway drug’ that introduces people to higher drugs like cocaine and heroin, it is also the crutch that people cling to while de-addicting themselves from these higher drugs. It’s an evil that goes unrecognized, although it’s harmful impact on the body and mind doesn’t.

Faces of the culprit

Tobacco is the source of nicotine, which is obtained from the commonly grown plant Nicotina tabacum. Nicotine can be smoked as cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. In developing countries like India, indigenous methods like burning the leaves in a small round chamber and inhalation of the smoke through a pipe (hookah) is common. Also, dried tobacco leaves are rolled into thin tubes called beedis, which are smoked directly. The percentage of nicotine entering the body from all these methods remains more or less the same; however, the cancer producing hydrocarbons are higher in pipes, hookahs, and beedis since these toxins are not filtered.

How it performs its act

Nicotine, the alkaloid in tobacco, is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and reaches the brain within 15 seconds of inhalation. The effect of a single smoke lasts approximately 2 hours though it can even be several hours before it is washed out from the body. Nicotine activates the dopamine neurotransmitter in the reward system of the brain and produces a rush, which is what the individual craves for in its absence. As long as the brain levels of nicotine are maintained, there are no complaints. As soon as the levels of nicotine start to fall, there is agitation, irritability, restlessness, and anxiety until the time the person smokes another cigarette to raises the level again. As compared to other drugs of abuse, smoking is inexpensive, socially sanctioned, and readily available; this makes it a bigger addiction.

MINDFRAMES: Taming the monster

Cigarette smoking is associated with several health effects like hypertension, heart attacks, blindness, paralytic strokes, asthma, bronchitis, and lung malignancy. Smoking during pregnancy (even passive smoking) is known to cause defects in the developing fetus. The passive smoking hazards are coming to light today since children are developing asthma and bronchitis secondary to passive smoking. We offer clinical as well as online therapy programs to manage the mammoth problem and enhance pollution and toxin free living. Substance dependence is an illness. People with diabetes, cancer and cardiac conditions get sympathy and understanding from their loved ones; sadly this is not the case with drugs. Here the best person who can help oneself is oneself. It makes sense to act soon.

Frequently Asked Questions

Aren’t filtered low tar cigarettes non- carcinogenic and safe to smoke?
The filtered cigarettes are erroneously presumed to be safer. Owing to the filter, one takes longer and larger puffs to get the same quantity and similar rush of nicotine in the brain. Hence in effect this delivers more carcinogens into the lungs and is in fact more dangerous than regular cigarettes.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do medicines help in quitting?
Medicines can help the quitting process in many ways: they can decrease anxiety, reduce the craving, lower the reinforcing effects of the cigarette, or help manage the sleeplessness and stress that one may experience. Many newer medicines have multiple actions thus decreasing craving as well as elevating the mood to prevent restlessness during withdrawal. Different medicines are customized for use on different patients afflicted with the deadly habit of smoking.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do nicotine patches, gums and electronic cigarettes help quitting?
Patches and gums are a nicotine delivery process and give the brain a nicotine rush; hence carry a risk for dependence. Likewise users of electronic cigarettes inhale nicotine vapor through battery-powered tubes as they would the smoke from a combustible cigarette. Treatment plans should be tailor made for each individual with use of the best possible medication along with psychotherapy to help them quit and assure prolonged abstinence.