Health and Nicotine

How Does Nicotine Affect People?

Although nicotine can have varying effects on people, the most common nicotine effects reported by tobacco product users include mood change and weight loss. Nicotine is an unusual chemical; unlike other chemicals that either stimulate or sedate, nicotine can do both, depending on the amount ingested.

Low doses of nicotine cause the liver to release glucose, the adrenal medulla to release adrenaline and the brain to become more sensitive to dopamine and norepinephrine; all of these things result in stimulation.

Higher doses of nicotine make the brain more sensitive to serotonin and opiates, which creates a sedative effect. Smokers who want to experience nicotine’s stimulating effects take short, quick puffs while smokers who crave the sedation that nicotine can provide take long, deep puffs.

Nicotine is also known for diminishing appetite and stimulating metabolism, both of which can result in weight loss.

Nicotine in the Human Body

Nicotine and the body's metabolism

How long nicotine stays in the body depends on the individual. Factors such as height, weight, age, metabolism and your general health all play a role. However, we can make some general statements about the metabolic path of nicotine.

Nicotine is readily absorbed in to the bloodstream through the nose, mouth and airways. Once inside the body, it quickly reaches the body’s organs and crosses the blood/brain barrier in to the brain where it activates specific receptors. This process can actually take less than 10 seconds.

Nicotine is metabolized in the liver and converted in to, amongst other things, cotinine.

There are various test methods used to identify nicotine, or its metabolites, in the body. These include urine, saliva and blood. Generally speaking, nicotine can be detected in the blood and urine for up to approximately four days after absorption, whilst it can be detected in the saliva up to about two days. Furthermore, detection can be made up to about 90 days after absorption through hair follicle test methods.

Nicotine and caffeine are both alkaloids, which helps explain why these two chemicals have similar effects on people. Although nicotine sometimes gets a bad rap due to being an addictive stimulant, research has not shown any links between nicotine and cancer.

Nicotine in the human body

Nicotine Addiction

One reason why nicotine is addictive has to do with the way it interacts with the neurotransmitter dopamine. Nicotine stimulates the release and extends the effect of dopamine on the brain. The initial hit of nicotine causes the smoker to experience pleasure and euphoria. However, those feelings may wear off within minutes, and this short-lived experience encourages smokers to dose themselves yet again in order to feel pleasure and prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Nicotine Gum
Nicotine Patch

A person who is addicted to nicotine may be at risk for a nicotine overdose. It’s possible to overdose on nicotine by simultaneously utilizing several different products that contain nicotine. For example, a person using nicotine patches, chewing nicotine gum and smoking tobacco cigarettes at the same time may be at risk for a nicotine overdose. Some of the symptoms associated with a nicotine overdose include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fainting, and drooling. It is notable that the user generally notices symptoms quickly.

Therapeutic uses of nicotine

Therapeutic Uses of Nicotine

Despite its potential to do harm, nicotine actually has several positive uses. Evidence seems to suggest that non-smokers are twice as likely as smokers to develop Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease. Also, doctors are exploring whether or not nicotine has a positive effect on adults suffering from certain forms of epilepsy; the reasoning behind this is that certain kinds of epilepsy occur in the same parts of the brain that process nicotine. People with Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease, benefit from the use of nicotine.

Further Health References

We don’t profess to know all of the answers, and there are new data emerging all of the time in this area, so here are some references that we have used when putting together the contents of these pages that we will up continue to update as/when new articles and studies are published:

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Bullen, C., McRobbie, H., Thornley, S., Glover, M., Lin, R., and Laugesen, M. (2010). Effect of an electronic nicotine delivery device (e cigarette) on desire to smoke and withdrawal, user preferences and nicotine delivery: Randomized cross-over trial. Tobacco Control, 19, 98-103.

Bullen, C., Howe, C., Laugesen, M., McRobbie, H., Parag, V., Williman, J., and Walker, N. (2013). Electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation: A randomized controlled trial. The Lancet, 382(9905), 1629-1637.

Caponnetto, P., Campagna, D., Cibella, F., Morjaria, J., Caruso, M., Russo, C., and Polosa, R. (2013a). EffiCiency and safety of an eLectronic cigAreTte (ECLAT) as tobacco cigarettes substitute: A prospective 12-month randomized control design study. PLoS ONE, 8(6), 1-12.

Caponnetto, P., Auditore, R., Russo, C., Cappello, G.C., and Polosa, R. (2013b). Impact of an electronic cigarette on smoking reduction and cessation in schizophrenic smokers. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 10(2), 446-461.

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Polosa, R., Morjaria, J.B., Caponnetto, P., Campagna, D., Russo, C., Alamo, A., Amaradio, M.D., and Fisichella, A. (2013). Effectiveness and tolerability of electronic cigarette in real-life: A 24-month prospective observational study. Internal and Emergency Medicine, Published online: 20 July 2013.

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