Modern research shows that nicotine acts on the brain to produce a number of effects. Specifically, research examining its addictive nature has been found to show that nicotine activates the mesolimbic pathway (“reward system”) – the circuitry within the brain that regulates feelings of pleasure and euphoria.
Nicotine’s Effect on the Brain
Dopamine is one of the key neurotransmitters actively involved in the brain. Research shows that by increasing the levels of dopamine within the reward circuits in the brain, nicotine acts as a chemical with intense addictive qualities. In many studies it has been shown to be more addictive than cocaine and heroin.
Like other physically addictive drugs, nicotine withdrawal causes down-regulation of the production of dopamine and other stimulatory neurotransmitters as the brain attempts to compensate for artificial stimulation. To compensate, the brain in turn increases the number of receptors. The net effect is an increase in reward pathway sensitivity, the opposite of other addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroin, which reduce reward pathway sensitivity. This brain alteration can persist for months. Often nicotine withdrawal causes months or years of depression.
Mood Altering Effects
Nicotine acts as both a stimulant and a relaxant. First causing a release of glucose and epinephrine (adrenaline), it causes stimulation. Users report feelings of relaxation, sharpness, calmness, and alertness.
When a cigarette is smoked, nicotine-rich blood passes from the lungs to the brain within seven seconds and immediately stimulates the release of many chemical messengers (neurotransmitters and hormones) which are responsible for most of nicotine’s effects. Nicotine also extends the duration of the effects of dopamine and increases sensitivity in brain reward systems.
Nicotine produces significant behavioral sensitization, a measure of addiction potential. This is similar in effect toamphetamine.
Most cigarettes (in the smoke inhaled) contain 1 to 3 milligrams of nicotine. Research suggests that, when smokers wish to achieve a stimulating effect, they take short quick puffs, which produce a low level of blood nicotine. This stimulates nerve transmission. When they wish to relax, they take deep puffs, which produce a high level of blood nicotine, which depresses the passage of nerve impulses, producing a mild sedative effect. At low doses, nicotine potently enhances the actions of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, causing a drug effect typical of those of psychostimulants. At higher doses, nicotine enhances the effect of serotonin and opiate activity, producing a calming, pain-killing effect. Nicotine is unique in comparison to most drugs, as its profile changes from stimulant to sedative/pain killer in increasing dosages and use.
Nicotine increases blood pressure and heart rate, and risk of atherosclerosis. It also has many other effects, including abolishment of the beneficial and protective effects of estrogen in the brain, which is involved in memory formation and retention
A Hard Habit to Break
The stimulant effect is the main factor responsible for the dependence-forming properties of tobacco smoking. According to the American Heart Association, nicotine addiction has historically been one of the hardest addictions to break, while the pharmacological and behavioral characteristics that determine tobacco addiction are similar to those determining addiction to heroin and cocaine. The nicotine content of popular American-brand cigarettes has slowly increased over the years, and one study found that there was an average increase of 1.6% per year between the years of 1998 and 2005. This was found for all major market categories of cigarettes.
Quitting smoking cold turkey is not always the best way to quit smoking. Sometimes “stop smoking aids” can be helpful in weaning and ultimately quitting smoking. However, the process is much easier when combined with Theta Chamber℠ technology.