The primary active chemical from cigarettes, as most people now know, is nicotine. What not everyone knows is that smoking cigarettes is not merely a “bad habit” – it is also an incredibly powerful addiction to nicotine.
Quitting smoking is not an easy task, and smoking tobacco is not something that can just be shrugged off at a whim once started. The best course of action is to never smoke cigarettes in the first place, but for many of us it’s too late for that. The best way to overcome any challenge, I find, is to learn as much as possible first.
In order to do so, let me provide some basic background information about tobacco and nicotine. The plant tobacco is a large flowering plant, with green leaves and is part of the nightshade family. All nightshade plants such as tomatoes and cocoa also have trace amounts of nicotine in them, but tobacco has the highest naturally occurring levels and that is why it is the plant that gets used for smoking.
Nicotine is an effective and deadly natural pesticide and is part of the nightshade family’s defensive strategy. It was discovered thousands of years ago that the tobacco plant (and it’s high levels of nicotine) was capable of producing a psychoactive effect in humans and that smoking it was the easiest way to achieve these effects rapidly while controlling the intake dosage.
It takes only about seven seconds for nicotine to pass through the blood-brain barrier when smoked. Interestingly the illegal drug cocaine does the same in about 5 seconds and is made from the cocoa plant of the same family.
At this point it starts to increase the flow of adrenaline into the bloodstream. This raises blood pressure, heart rate, dopamine and glucose levels. This is the fun part that gets most kids interested in smoking it – a couple of puffs and within seconds you get a massive rush. The dopamine is integral to the body’s pleasure and reward system. The rush of adrenaline and dopamine is makes the body immediately have a happy tingly sensation (much like in other addictive stimulants.)
So far, it sounds like a pretty good deal and indeed these effects are smoking’s initial draw and has been for centuries. But, nicotine as you will remember is poisonous – because it goes straight into the central nervous system and is a very dirty drug. It causes havoc with several other brain chemicals, each contributing it’s own effects, such as reduced anxiety and improved concentration (on the positive side.) Nicotine has another wonderful property – in small rapid doses it rushes through the system and causes a high. In larger accumulated doses it begins to overload these same systems and cause a sedative affect. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure rolled in a little paper tube!
Since nicotine activates the dopamine reward system, it starts forming an addiction – the body starts craving the happy high. This is exactly how cocaine and heroin do their dirty work as well. Recent findings have shown that nicotine is more effective at doing this than either of those two, and is actually more addictive. Nicotine also has a very short half-life, so it’s beneficial effects wear off within hours, requiring the user to introduce more into the system to prevent the effects of withdrawal and restore the steady state of high the body adapts to receiving.
Still with me? We’re getting into the bad parts now. Combustion of the tobacco leaves creates a large variety of toxins which are invariably inhaled and absorbed into the body with the nicotine. In fact, very little of the smoke is actually nicotine at all – a 1 gram king size cigarette might release less than a milligram of it.
Due to nicotine’s high degree of toxicity – more a couple of milligrams of inhaled nicotine will have very adverse effects on the body, and 40-60mg of nicotine is lethal to an adult.
The tar and chemicals from cigarettes is what clogs the lungs and causes cancer. They constrict blood vessels, block arteries and leave the immune system in a constantly weakened state – it’ fights a whole roster of nastiness with each puff. Nicotine itself prevents the body from killing off cancerous cells and thus indirectly allows cancer to take hold where it appears.
So, what have we learned? A tiny amount of nicotine is a powerfully addictive drug, which in very low doses has several beneficial but temporary effects. Cigarettes themselves are filled entirely with toxins, but exist because they are a crude, yet effective system for delivering a safe dose of nicotine into the bloodstream.
It’s come to light that major cigarette manufacturers conducted their own independent research over 50 years ago that showed them their product was nicotine, not cigarettes, and in order to make money they needed to get as many people addicted to it as possible. They also knew that if it was readily known that their product was an addictive drug in the magnitude of cocaine and heroin and deadlier than both, the FDA would naturally outlaw it. So they buried this research, hindered and discredited anyone making these finding and outright lied to everyone for as long as they possibly could.
There is hope! If you can manage to abstain from nicotine for 48 to 72 hours it will have totally cleared your bloodstream. After the first few days the physical withdrawal symptoms lessen and your nervous system starts to re-stabilize itself to normal function. The withdrawals suck. If you’ve never experienced it – you probably cannot appreciate how bad it truly is. Your body goes into full revolt at such an abrupt change to it’s chemistry. Worse yet – any re-introduction of nicotine to the body puts it back to it’s addicted state until it’s flushed out again.
This means cold-turkey is the ONLY way to quit and now I explain my title for this article. Nicotine Replacement Therapy (as it is called) slowly lowers the level of nicotine in your bloodstream over a long period of time – in theory this is to allow the body to make the adjustment slowly. Astute readers (assuming anyone made it this far) will have noticed a paradox in this.
If the addiction state is resumed at the re-introduction of nicotine to the bloodstream, wouldn’t tapering down the daily dose just cause gradually increasing withdrawals over a greater period of time? Nicotine now takes weeks to leave the body instead of days, and each week it is forced to endure more and more withdrawals. Sounds like torture to me, and do you know what? It doesn’t work – it increases the smokers frustration and reinforces the body’s natural urge to defend itself, and the addiction that keeps it from experiencing the withdrawal discomfort.
I think the patch has to be the greatest swindle the industry has pulled, next to cigarettes themselves – increase the addiction and sell it as therapy. Heck, when you put it into proper perspective – tobacco companies sell the drug nicotine, not cigarettes – the patch, the gum and all other methods of delivering that drug to the end user is all the same to them. You’re buying their drug and it’s impossible to become free of it unless you stop taking it altogether.
Genius, pure evil genius!