The story of nicotine begins with the early discovery of the American continent and Cristopher Columbus’ first introduction to the tobacco plant. When the plant reached Europe it divided the public from the start. Some saw the plant as a medicine and a stimulant, while others claimed that the plant was toxic and lead to a habit. This discussion is popular even now, although there are more proofs of the harmful effects of smoking tobacco. However, only a handful of people really dives into little known side effects and dangers of nicotine, as well as the durations of time that nicotine stays in the human body. Therefore, we decided to create this article and let you know everything there is to know about nicotine and how it really affects your health.
What is nicotine?
Nicotine is an alkaloid first extracted in 1828 by two German scientists, Wilhelm Posselt and Karl Reinmann, and the two chemists instantly labeled the substance as a poison. In its pure form nicotine is a transparent liquid with a specific odor. Besides tobacco plant, nicotine is also found in other nightshade species like tomato, potato, eggplant, etc. The amount found in the other plants is much lesser than the nicotine content in a pack of cigarettes, which is why there are not many people addicted to potatoes in the first place.
The immediate effects of nicotine on a human body
It’s important to understand that nicotine influences human both psychologically and pathologically. A study conducted by scientists at Duke University Department of Neurobiology discovered that nicotine receptors in the brain allow the chemical to influence our memory, neural development, and learning. However, depending on the application nicotine can affect various organs in a human body.
The most immediate and notable effects of nicotine include an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Numerous studies have shown the same effects taking place with all sexes and ages, pointing out that the amount of nicotine needed to cause a reaction depends on the physical characteristics of a person. An experiment conducted on a group of healthy non-smoking men showed that 4mg of nicotine, introduced through a chewing gum has a direct influence on heart rate and blood flow.
Another serious health effect of nicotine is an acute condition known as Green tobacco sickness. It is an acute form of nicotine toxicity most commonly to occur with tobacco industry workers that handle green tobacco leaves. It’s the direct skin contact with wet tobacco leaves that produces the nicotine absorption through the tissue. Once the body takes more nicotine than it can handle, the sickness occurs. The symptoms include nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, etc. There are some reports of death caused by the sickness, however, there are no clinical studies that the death was a consequence of poisoning or it happened as a result of poor health additionally aggravated by the sickness.
Nicotine and cancer
There is a major misunderstanding regarding the correlation between nicotine and cancer. Many people believe that nicotine is the main cause of cancer, which is still under a serious scientific research and discussion. However, there are researches that prove the connection between the two. According to these studies, nicotine can have a positive effect on cellular growth in small doses. On the other side, larger amounts of nicotine are toxic to human cells. Additionally, our main defense against the tumor, CHK2 tumor suppressor, is decreased by nicotine. With our defense down, our body becomes easy prey to cancer. Ultimately, smoking can decrease the effects of cancer treatment.
The nicotine addiction
Many experts agree that nicotine addiction is almost as powerful as the addiction to heroin. The reason why this addiction is so powerful is that it’s not just in our head, our body physically gets addicted to nicotine. A research conducted by CDC shows that no more than six percent of smokers looking to quit are able to leave cigarettes every year. The main reason why it’s so difficult to quit smoking is the nicotine withdrawal. It causes our body to react when the level of nicotine in our body decreases. As a result of the withdrawal smokers who are unable to cope with the withdrawal simply decide to give up on giving up.
More and more people decide to switch from traditional combustible tobacco products to electronic cigarettes, claiming that it’s a safer and healthier alternative. Perhaps this is the best demonstration of the substance addiction. The addict will reach out to alternatives rather than quitting the habit altogether. Although e-cigarettes and vaporizers are a somewhat healthier alternative due to the lack of combusted particles, carbon monoxide, and other harmful substances, they still provide a notable dose of nicotine.
The nicotine effect on reproductive organs
Nicotine causes impaired Nitrous oxide synthesis, which often leads to erectile dysfunction and the loss of penile erection. Moreover, several studies indicate that nicotine also disrupts spermatogenesis on a cellular level, and diminish the level of testosterone in a male body.
When it comes to the female part of the population, nicotine is one of the causes of the irregular menstrual cycle. It also reduces the maturation of oocytes, female immature egg cell, which can cause pregnancy issues.
Nicotine plays a major role in many human health conditions. There are a series of studies which prove the negative effects it has on our body and mind. It’s really difficult to unhook once the person is addicted to nicotine, with a very low success rate. The expansion of vaping products and electronic cigarettes offers a healthier alternative to people addicted to this substance, however, the healthiest path is quitting.
Originally posted in 2015.