Why is quitting smoking so difficult?: A new alternative to kicking butts
The butt stops here: Scientists are working on a revolutionary way to end nicotine addiction
Depending on who is doing the ranking, nicotine is either the first, or the third, most addictive substance in the world. Some researchers say the addiction to nicotine is stronger than heroin while others say heroin is slightly stronger than nicotine. Either way, nicotine and heroin are so close when it comes to their ability to ensnare their users that even researchers are splitting hairs about which one is worse.
That is how you know the addictive properties are strong. Nicotine vs. heroin! No wonder so many smokers have such a difficult time putting out their addiction out once and for all. So, what options are out there for people looking to live a life free of cigarettes? We review here. Then, we invite your questions about treating nicotine addiction at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all
Nicotine On The Brain
Why is nicotine so addictive? Part of the reason WHY nicotine has such a firm grasp on users is that it activates the pleasure centers of the brain. Nicotine “opens up” the chemical pathways of the brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good. Those feelings of bliss from taking a puff are triggered as the nicotine travels to the brain and the brain says, “Ahh,” and releases dopamine. In the brain, dopamine makes smokers say, “Ahh,” as they exhale.
Throughout the body, the excess dopamine has other effects such as opening the blood vessels while simultaneously slowing insulin production in the pancreas, grinding the gastrointestinal system to slow chug, and suppressing the immune system. Yet, up in the brain there is happiness and joy so the brain wants more. In fact, the brain is only concerned with keeping those good feelings going, which leads to cravings, an internal begging for another puff.
Plus, nicotine is a fast worker. It reaches maximum effect 10 seconds after a puff. The thing about the brain is that it is concerned with homeostasis – a medical term for keeping things in balance. After repeated doses of nicotine, it adapts to the stimulant. So, after a period of days or weeks… now it asks for more nicotine.
Over time, the brain physically changes to the point it needs nicotine. This is the definition of physical dependence: when you need to deliver the nicotine to the brain to feel “normal”. It’s also the reason behind why smokers continue smoking, even though they know it’s not good for them!
Nicotine On The Soul
Aside from the highly addictive properties of the drug nicotine, smoking is a pleasurable activity for smokers. Users report a wide variety of benefits from smoking such as stress reduction as well as improved memory and concentration. However, from a purely biological standpoint smoking actually brings on stress in the form of elevating the blood pressure and heart rate.
Yet for reasons unknown, smokers to do not feel those biological effects as stress. Instead, smoking is a habitual act that brings pleasure. For many smokers, lighting up is a part of who they are. For example, many users associate smoking with waking up first thing in the morning even if they also drink coffee. The routine can be as important as the biological need for the nicotine.
Since there are biological, psychological, and emotional forces at play, scientists began to wonder if there is a way to loosen nicotine’s grasp on its victims. Current smoking cessation methods fail up to 90% of the time. Simply replacing the nicotine delivery such as with gum or patches is not enough. Some smokers have turned to vaping with an e-cigarette to avoid the nasty additives of traditional cigarettes but since the liquid used in e-cigarettes still contains nicotine they are still addicted to it.
Scientists from the Scripps Institute decided to try to approach the problem from a different angle. For the past 30 years, they have been looking for a way to nullify nicotine’s nasty effects while the smoker still smokes and works on breaking the psychological and emotional attachment to smoking. Recently, they isolated the enzyme dubbed NicA2 from the bacteria Pseudomonas putida. The enzyme literally eats nicotine. The bacterium that produces NicA2 is ironically found in the soil of tobacco plants. They then began engineering the enzyme to the point that instead of nicotine remaining in the body for up to three hours it was eaten’ by the enzyme in as few as nine minutes.
They are continuing to modify the preparation and hope to maximize its effect. The researchers’ goal is to produce a stable product that will be injected monthly to provide smokers with protection against the grasp of nicotine.
It will likely be some time before the researchers are able to fine tune the enzyme to a usable serum which can be effectively used as a stop smoking aid. However, for the millions of smokers who have tried countless times and countless methods to quit, the possibility of being free of nicotine once and for all may actually the lifesaver they have been looking for.
Will this new alternative work? What do you think?
Can a nicotine consumption product provide hope for those who have failed to live smoke-free? What has worked for you? Please share your comments or questions in the section below. We’ll try to get back with you ASAP.