Yes, you read that correctly. Believe it or not, there are health benefits of nicotine. For years the general perception has been that smoking is unhealthy primarily due to the presence of nicotine. The truth is that tar and other chemicals, not nicotine, have been identified as the cancer causing agents in traditional cigarettes. Another truth is that many scientific studies indicate nicotine may have a positive impact on Parkinson’s Disease, schizophrenia, and other neurological disorders which are degenerative in nature. You might be surprised at how little you know about this much-maligned stimulant.
What is Nicotine?
Nicotine is an alkaloid, a nitrogen-laden chemical that binds to the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors of the brain when inhaled from traditional cigarettes or absorbed through the chewing of tobacco products or through a nicotine patch. Vaporizers can also deliver nicotine in a manner that eliminates the presence of harmful carcinogens like tar. Once in the bloodstream, nicotine functions as a stimulant. It can increase mental and physical energy as it speeds up the brain and central nervous system.
The awareness of most individuals does not go beyond the perception of nicotine as a primary compound of cigarettes and other forms of tobacco. It actually has a rather colorful history of which cigarettes are a only a part. First synthesized in 1904, nicotine is part of the nightshade family which also includes red peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes. It has, among other things, been used as a natural insecticide in times past. Unfortunately, the presence of nicotine in tobacco has caused it to be wrongly characterized as a cancer-causing chemical. To date there is no significant research which supports the conclusion that nicotine alone causes cancer.
Health Benefits of Nicotine
There are studies, however, which appear to document the usefulness of nicotine in the treatment of a variety of medical conditions. These include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. As far back as 1990, medical scientists were documenting the use of nicotine to reduce inattention and improve mood. Nicotine has also been successfully evaluated as an antidepressant that can alter brain waves and increase euphoria.
Perhaps the most significant evidence of the health benefits of nicotine have been observed in terms of improved cognitive function. A 2001 study used nicotine patches to study the effects of nicotine on various ailments including Alzheimer’s Disease and schizophrenia. The results were eye-opening to many in the medical community who have long branded nicotine as troublesome. In the study, nicotine was shown to have the ability to positively impact long-term memory, episodic memory, and working memory. It was also observed that many test subjects improved the speed at which they were able to process information, and subjects also improved in their overall ability to learn.
With so many studies supporting the health benefits of nicotine, why does it continue to be a scapegoat for the various health issues attributed to smoking? The answer is unclear. It could be that of all the 7,000 chemicals believed to be present in cigarettes, nicotine is simply the most recognized.
Better Nicotine Alternatives
The research on nicotine health effects begs the question, are there better alternatives for using nicotine than traditional cigarettes? This is a question that researchers are going to be forced to answer going forward, especially in regards to the popularity of “vaping” or inhaling nicotine through a device that produces vapor instead of smoke. Vaporizers are at the heart of the debate over nicotine, and may ultimately prove to be helpful in demonstrating the usefulness of this misunderstood chemical.