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What is Nicotine?

Nicotine, a toxic parasympathomimetic alkaloid, plays a major role in botany and its biological connection to plant defense against herbivorous organisms. This organic compound, found in the tobacco plant and other solanaceae, acts as an agonist for the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor.

Although it is widespread in all parts of plants, the highest concentration of nicotine is found in leaves, accounting for approximately 0.3 to 5 percent of the dry weight of tobacco leaves. Nicotine biosynthesis occurs mainly in the roots, accumulating later in the leaves. Not only does tobacco harbor this compound, but other members of the solanaceae family, such as tomato, potato, eggplant, and bell pepper, also contain smaller amounts.

In its pure state, nicotine appears as a colorless liquid, but it tends to darken when exposed to air. It is also partly responsible for the characteristic aroma of tobacco.

What are the main effects of nicotine on the body?

Nicotine is a substance found in tobacco that, when inhaled, acts rapidly on the central nervous system. The stimulant properties of nicotine increase heart rate and the amount of oxygen used by the heart, creating a temporary feeling of well-being and relaxation. In addition, nicotine promotes the secretion of endorphins, chemicals that relieve stress and improve mood.

Although nicotine can provide a feeling of pleasure, the reward levels are short-lived, prompting people to smoke again to maintain the feeling. Frequent and prolonged nicotine use also results in increased levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that reinforces nicotine-taking behavior.

In addition, nicotine abuse can change brain functioning in relation to self-control, stress, and learning. These long-term changes can lead to addiction and withdrawal symptoms when a person attempts to quit smoking.

Although nicotine may temporarily improve concentration and memory, long-term cigarette smoking is associated with a decline in cognitive ability and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The possible short-term benefits of nicotine on cognitive function do not outweigh the long-term risks of nicotine use. In addition, cessation of nicotine use may result in withdrawal symptoms that affect attention, memory and sleep.

What are the side effects of nicotine?

Nicotine is a substance that can have several side effects on the body. It is important to be aware of these adverse effects in order to understand the risks associated with the use of nicotine-containing products. Here are some common side effects related to nicotine intake:

  • Dizziness and lightheadedness: nicotine can cause lightheadedness and dizziness.
  • Sleep disturbances: many nicotine users experience difficulty sleeping or poor quality sleep.
  • Blood flow alterations: nicotine use can affect normal blood flow, increasing the risk of heart and blood clotting problems.
  • Headaches: some individuals may develop headaches as a reaction to nicotine intake.
  • Increased blood pressure: the stimulant effect of nicotine may result in increased blood pressure.
  • Alterations in heart rate and rhythm: nicotine can affect the normal heartbeat, causing alterations in rhythm and rate.
  • Shortness of breath: some people may experience difficulty breathing or feeling short of breath.
  • Peptic ulcer: nicotine use may increase the risk of developing peptic ulcers, which are open lesions in the stomach or intestines.
  • Digestive problems: complaints such as diarrhea, nausea, indigestion, dry mouth, and heartburn may be associated with nicotine intake.

Specific nicotine products may have distinct side effects. For example, nicotine patches can cause skin irritation, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, sleep disturbances, headaches, nausea, and muscle aches. If you experience symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat, you should talk to a health professional to consider reducing your dosage.

Nicotine gum can cause a bad taste in the mouth, irritation of the throat, sores in the mouth, hiccups, nausea, jaw discomfort, and rapid heartbeat. Other nicotine-containing products can cause symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, nervousness and headache. If nicotine intoxication is suspected, it is critical to contact the Poison Control Center immediately or seek emergency medical attention.

In addition, nicotine can interact with other medications or drugs. For example, it can reduce the effectiveness of benzodiazepines and increase the risk of blood clots in people taking the contraceptive pill.

What are the long-term effects of nicotine?

Regular nicotine use may seem to have no consequences in daily life, but it actually has a significant impact on the optimal functioning of the body. Consistent nicotine use greatly increases the risk of numerous diseases and health conditions. Often, negative effects do not occur immediately while smoking, but may appear later in life.

Here are some of the most common health problems associated with nicotine use:

  • Cancer: Cancer develops when abnormal cells proliferate excessively, interfering with the normal functioning of the body. Although there are several risk factors associated with cancer, smokers are more likely to develop this disease during their lifetime. Lung cancer is often caused by smoking and is the most common type of cancer related to nicotine use. However, nicotine use also increases the risk of cancers in other parts of the body, such as the mouth and esophagus.
  • Heart disease: Continued tobacco use increases the likelihood of developing heart problems. One of the most common heart diseases caused by smoking is coronary artery disease, in which the arteries that carry blood to the heart narrow, impairing blood flow throughout the body. Smoking increases not only the risk of developing coronary artery disease but also the likelihood of related mortality. Exposure to secondhand smoke over a long period can also affect the risk of heart disease.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): COPD is a disease characterized by airway obstruction and is closely associated with smoking. Smokers account for 75% of people diagnosed with COPD. Inhaling foreign particles such as nicotine damages the respiratory system, causing a constant shortage of oxygen throughout the body and leading to severe physical and mental problems.
  • Developmental effects: Nicotine has a strong impact on brain development, especially when used by adolescents. The substance alters the connection between brain synapses, affecting the formation of memories and neural pathways. The effects of nicotine at this stage can create neurological dependence on the substance, interfering with the brain’s ability to learn and process information.
  • Psychological effects: In addition to physical effects, nicotine use can have psychological consequences. It can impair the ability to handle stress, cope with frustration, and control impulses. While nicotine may temporarily provide benefits in emotional and behavioral regulation, intense emotions may occur during the withdrawal phase. This can lead to a dependence on nicotine to regulate emotions, with possible negative mental health consequences.

To overcome nicotine use, it is essential to cope with withdrawal symptoms and learn to manage stress. Being aware of how nicotine affects the mindset can help prevent addiction to this substance.

Is nicotine worse than caffeine?

Nicotine is a highly harmful substance to health that, as mentioned above, is present in both tobacco cigarettes and chewing tobacco. In contrast, caffeine found in coffee, tea, and other carbonated beverages is not considered hazardous to health, but it can be addictive. But which of the two substances is more addictive? The answer is simple: nicotine.

Although caffeine is not considered dangerous to health, it would still be advisable to use it in moderation. Eighty percent of the developed world drinks coffee every day, but excessive use can create some side effects such as increased blood pressure, irritability, insomnia and anxiety.

In fact, the question of which substance is worse between the two does not in itself make much sense, since addiction to a substance can have very serious consequences on physical and mental health, regardless of the type of substance. This means that although nicotine is a much more dangerous substance than caffeine, caffeine addiction can always be problematic in people who cannot handle it.

Claiming that a substance is harmless can also be misleading, as excessive consumption of any substance can lead to serious health consequences. In general, limiting nicotine and caffeine use is always a good choice for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

How long does nicotine stay in the bloodstream?

The duration of nicotine in the body can vary depending on several factors, such as the frequency and duration of exposure, as well as the method of intake. Understanding how long this substance remains in our bodies is important for diagnostic purposes, such as testing for tobacco smoking or passive exposure.

Nicotine can persist in the body for a considerable amount of time depending on the type of test used and the method of intake. Urine tests are commonly used to detect the presence of cotinine, while blood and saliva tests can provide additional information. Hair tests can reveal past exposure to nicotine, but are not used as frequently as the other types of tests.

Duration of nicotine in the body

After taking nicotine, our bodies metabolize it into cotinine, the main breakdown product. Testing for cotinine can reveal whether a person has been exposed to nicotine, providing crucial information about its presence in the body. In urine tests, cotinine can be detected for several weeks. However, results may vary depending on individual factors, such as metabolism and genetic differences.

Methods of detection

Tests for nicotine can be conducted on a variety of biological matrices, including blood, saliva, and urine. Blood cotinine levels reach their half-life in less than a day, while saliva can reveal the presence of cotinine more rapidly than urine tests. Different detection methods may give slightly different results, so it is important to discuss the results with a health care professional.

Nicotine traces in hair

Hair tests can detect the presence of nicotine even weeks, months or even years after the last exposure. However, hair test results may not directly correlate with those of blood or urine tests. This type of test can also reveal passive exposure to tobacco smoke.

What are the harmful levels of nicotine?

Nicotine is a substance that we should all avoid taking, especially in high doses, as it can be very dangerous to our health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a lethal dose for an adult of about 70Kg corresponds to 50-60 milligrams of nicotine, which makes us realize how important it is to limit the consumption of this substance. Traditional nicotine intake through cigarette smoking exposes each smoker to one milligram of nicotine for every unit of cigarette smoked. Therefore, it is very important to try to quit smoking and gradually reduce nicotine intake safely and effectively.

For more on this topic, check out the latest scientific research on PubMed

This article was originally written in Italian and translated English via deepl.com. If you notice a major error in the translation you can write to [email protected] to report it. Your contribution will be greatly appreciated

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