The Nicotine substance is an alkaloid chemical that can generally be sourced from the tobacco plant. It fits into the nightshade family of plants. Nicotine is also present in small amounts in plants like tomato, potato, green pepper, eggplant, and coca plants.
Also known as the addictive component in tobacco products, nicotine is often mistakenly thought to be a harmless chemical otherwise.
How Does Nicotine Affect Your Body’s Chemistry
When a vaper inhale’s nicotine, it travels to the brain within 10 seconds and attaches to receptors where the body’s neurotransmitter acetylcholine would normally dock. The chain of chemical reactions influences numerous bodily functions.
Nicotine is a stimulant, however, the smoker’s mental and physical state would determine if it can be perceived as energising or relaxing.
A lot of smokers are familiar with the feeling of a racing heart and/or shallow breathing when they smoke. Whenever nicotine enters the brain, adrenaline is released, increasing heart rate, and blood pressure, and restricting blood flow to the heart.
This adrenaline will also tell the body to move excess glucose into the bloodstream. At the same time, nicotine hinders the release of insulin from the pancreas, which would eliminate excess sugar from the blood. The result of this is that smokers are often in a state of hyperglycemia, meaning they would have more sugar in their blood than is normal. High blood sugar tends to dampen hunger, and this is a contributing factor to the appetite-suppressant impacts of nicotine.
Here are some facts about nicotine.
- Nicotine mimics chemicals in the body
Nicotine is similar in structure to a chemical messenger found in the body and brain of all animals including humans. It is called acetylcholine (ACh). Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter which delivers chemical messages from nerve cells to other cells. It plays a significant role in alertness, attention, learning, and memory. Nicotine docks to the similar receptors like Acetylcholine, producing other chemicals such as dopamine, another key neurotransmitter which is activated when nicotine reaches the brain. Dopamine’s release results in feelings of euphoria and is thought to play a crucial role in addiction to nicotine and other drugs.
- Nicotine helps to improve performance
It has been indicated to enhance performance, processing capacity and enhance cognitive function. These impacts include increased levels of arousal and alertness, improved capacity to maintain performance during long and boring tasks, improved capacity to attend to task-relevant information, improved capacity to maintain the concentration of attention, faster learning and enhanced ‘working’ memory. Nicotine has also been noted to enhance aspects of fine motor skills, attention, and memory in short clinical trials. The Royal College of Physicians in the UK states in their report ‘Nicotine without smoke’: ‘Nicotine is a stimulant that enhances concentration and fine motor skills.
- Nicotine is not poisonous
Nicotine is not poisonous at the levels typically consumed in cigarettes or vapes and modern oral delivery when the products are used as intended by adult smokers. However, like 16th-century chemist Paracelsus noted: “The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy”. The dose in the tobacco plant is designed to affect insects, not mammals like humans.
- Nicotine “is a carcinogen”
Nicotine has not been classified as such by the World Health Organisation or US Surgeon General’s office. Nicotine-based products are recommended by regulatory agencies such as the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
- Nicotine is a naturally occurring compound
It is a natural insecticide produced by plants. Humans have harnessed it to protect plants from insects since at least the 1690s, and indigenous people across North America use tobacco for ceremonial and medicinal rites. The Maya civilization likely used tobacco leaves for ritual purposes from at least the 10th century, keeping them in flasks.