How Does Nicotine Effect the Brain? Is Nicotine Safe?

How Does Nicotine Effect the Brain? Is Nicotine Safe?

A key element of smoking, just how bad is nicotine?

11 July 2022 | Hannah Rubery

How Does Nicotine Effect the Brain? Is Nicotine Safe? (Image)

There have been growing discussions of late regarding vaping and smoking, and nicotine strengths. Between the interest in low-nicotine cigarettes and the worries of high nicotine strength disposables finding their ways to under-age vapers, a lot of questions are circulating. Is nicotine the real thing we should be worried about? Is nicotine the cause of cancer for smokers? Does this therefore translate to vaping?

Nicotine harm – the lesser evil

Nicotine is a chemical found in tobacco that is highly addictive and is commonly found in cigarettes or vape juice. In high enough doses, nicotine can lead to poisoning and in severe cases, even death. It’s important to note that with the availability of E-Liquids with high nicotine strengths, nicotine poisoning has seen an increase over the years.

So how does nicotine affect us? Nicotine is a stimulant because of how it stimulates our bodies. When it enters the blood, it makes the adrenal glands release adrenaline to stimulate the central nervous system. This equates to increased blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. Nicotine also stimulates our brains by mimicking dopamine, the happy chemical that we naturally produce.

With extended use of nicotine, the receptors in our brain change which can lead to withdrawal symptoms once you quit nicotine. These symptoms do go away as our brains recover quite quickly but these effects can be enough to drive many back to smoking.

There are also studies that suggest smokers more are likely to experience cognitive decline compared to non-smokers. Claims suggest that nicotine could be the cause of this, but we know that smoking itself generates over 7000 harmful carcinogens, so it isn’t possible to single out nicotine as the root cause. Another study looked at patients with Alzheimer’s who were given nicotine to potentially treat some of their cognitive symptoms. It was noted that those who received nicotine performed better in cognitive tasks and saw cognitive improvement six months later.

The most amount of harm from nicotine is noted in those under the age of 25. Up until 25 years of age, our brains are still developing and anything that interacts with the brain during this time, could potentially cause serious side effects. Nicotine has been noted to interfere with parts of the brain’s development even if they later quit smoking.

The problem with studies on nicotine harm

Many studies that have investigated the effects of nicotine, unfortunately, do not differentiate between nicotine use and smoking. The problem this causes is an unclear look at nicotine’s adverse effects. Of course, this is not to say there are none, but it is widely understood that smoking and the carcinogens produced by smoking are the most harmful aspects of cigarettes.

Aside from the fact that smoking involves inhaling smoke which contains carbon monoxide, which is absorbed through your lungs into the bloodstream, there are hundreds of cancer-causing carcinogens also present.

Why quitting nicotine should be your goal

It’s undeniable that quitting smoking will make a difference for your health, and the same can be said for quitting nicotine also. Making the switch to vaping helps with cutting out cigarettes, as vaping still satisfies the nicotine cravings. Nicotine itself can cause some unwanted effects such as elevated heart rate, jitteriness, headaches, reduced appetite and more. There are also some positive effects like increasing concentration and decreasing tension, but whether these outweigh the cons is up to you.

With vaping, there are products available that allow you to manage your nicotine intake, such as the use of shortfills. These types of zero-nicotine E-Liquids mean you can mix a nicotine shot to create a lower-strength vape juice. And by lowering the amount/strength of the nicotine shot, you can lower the overall strength and eventually quit nicotine.

If you think you need more help with quitting smoking and nicotine, don’t worry, there are places and people who can help. Whether you prefer to quit and go cold turkey, or use a quitting aid like vaping, speak with your local stop smoking NHS service or your GP to find out more.