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Nicotine and tobacco are synonymous. Its mildly euphoric effects often camouflage its dangers. Do you know how it works?

  1. What is Nicotine?
  2. Nicotine is the main active /addictive ingredient in cigarettes. The main source of nicotine is a tobacco plant called, Nicotiana tabacum. The plant is known to be grown as far back in history as 6000BC. Nicotine has a chemical formula, (C10H14N2) and is a naturally occurring liquid alkaloid. (An alkaloid is an organic compound made out of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and sometimes oxygen.)

  3. Nicotine that are available
  4. Commercial Cigarette contains 8 to 20 milligrams of nicotine per cigarette (depending on the brand), however, only approximately 1 mg is actually absorbed when smoking a cigarette. There are also the commercially available nicotine patches, and chewing gums that are readily available.

  5. Route of absorption

         Nicotine readily diffuses through:

  • Lung ( after inhalation)
  • skin (air or nicotine patches)
  • Mucous membranes (such as the lining of your nose or your gums) as in chewing gums.

Nicotine moves right into the capillaries that line the tissues. The lungs are made up of millions of air sacs known as alveoli. These alveoli provide an enormous surface area for nicotine and other compounds to diffuse into our bodies. Once in your bloodstream, nicotine is transported via blood stream immediately to the brain. Although Nicotine acts differently at different sites throughout the body, within 10 to 15 seconds of a few puffs of cigarettes, most smokers can feel nicotine's effects.

II.   Effects of Smoking

The smoker experiences its mild soothing, euphoric effects almost immediately. It is the absence of this euphoric effect later that the quitting smokers find difficult to live without.

Nicotine does not stick around your body for too long. It has a half-life of about 60 minutes, meaning that six hours after a cigarette, only about 0.031 mg of the 1 mg of nicotine you inhaled remains in your body.

Here's the process your body uses to eliminate the nicotine:

  • About 80 percent of nicotine are broken down to cotinine by enzymes in your liver.
  • Nicotine is also metabolized in your lungs to cotinine and nicotine oxide.
  • Cotinine and other metabolites are excreted in your urine. Cotinine has a 24-hour half-life, so you can test whether or not someone has been smoking in the past day or two by screening their urine for cotinine.
  • The remaining nicotine is filtered from the blood by your kidneys and excreted in the urine.

a. Body
Nicotine initially cause release of adrenaline, which causes:

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Increased blood pressure

  • Rapid, shallow breathing

  • Adrenaline also tells your body to dump some of its glucose stores into your blood.
  • Nicotine itself may also block the release of the hormone insulin. This means that nicotine may cause hyperglycemia, having more sugar than usual in their blood. ( that’s why smoking should also be avoided by diabetics)
  • Some studies also suggest that nicotine also curb appetite so those smokers eat less. This hyperglycemia could be one explanation why - their bodies and brain may see the excess sugar and down regulate the hormones and other signals that are perceived as hunger.
  • Nicotine may also increase basal metabolic rate (BMR) slightly. This means that you burn more calories than you usually would when you are just sitting around. However, losing weight by smoking is not recommended because in the long run, nicotine can increase the level of the "bad" cholesterol, LDL that damages your arteries. This makes it more likely that you could have a heart attack or a stroke.

b. Brain

Nicotine acts immediately on the brain cells. The brain is the center of information processes. Information travels in the form neurons that transfer and integrate information. Each neuron has thousands of inputs from other neurons throughout the brain.

A synapse is the site where two neurons come into contact. The presynaptic neuron releases neurotransmitter, which binds to receptors on the postsynaptic cell. This allows signals to be transmitted from neuron to neuron in the brain.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that traverse the physical space between two neurons.

Nicotine works by docking to a subset of receptors that bind the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, which delivers signals from your brain to your muscles

  • controls basic functions like your energy level, the beating of your heart and how you breathe
  • acts as a traffic cop overseeing the flow of information in your brain
  • plays a role in learning and memory

Like acetylcholine, nicotine makes neurons fire off information to various parts of your brain. Unlike acetylcholine and other neurotransmitters, which are usually released in small, nicotine hits your brain like a tidal wave. Nicotine activates cholinergic neurons in many different regions throughout your brain simultaneously. This massive stimulation leads directly and indirectly to the following effects:

  • Heightened activity in cholinergic pathways throughout your brain. You feel more awake; improves your reaction time and your ability to pay attention, making you feel like you can work better.
  • The neurotransmitter dopamine is released pathways of your brain. By stimulating neurons in these areas of the brain brings on pleasant, happy feelings so you will keep doing these things. When nicotine activates the reward pathways, it makes you want to keep on smoking despite warnings it can hamper your life.
  • Glutamate, a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory is also released. When you use nicotine, glutamate may create a memory loop of the good feelings you get and further drive the desire to use nicotine.

  • Nicotine also increases the level of other neurotransmitters and chemicals for example, endorphins. Endorphins are small proteins that are often called the body's natural painkiller. It turns out that the chemical structure of endorphins is very similar to that of heavy-duty synthetic painkillers like morphine. It can give a temporary feeling of euphoria which can mask nagging pains.


  1. Chronic use of tobacco is linked to several deadly diseases. It has been established smoking as one of the causes of lung cancer.
  2. Other cancers that are associated with smoking are:
  • Cervical
  • Esophageal and oral cancer
  • Larynx
  • Pancreas
  • Bladder
  1. Risk of developing peptic ulcers & gastrointestinal disorders
  2. Risk of coronary, peripheral, & cerebral vascular diseases. (Diseases of the heart and blood vessels)
  3. Smoking during pregnancy may result in:

  • Low birth eight
  • Increased risk of abortion
  • Stillbirth
  • Neonatal death
  1. The milk of smoking mothers contains the metabolite cotinine as well as cadmium. Maternal smoking appears to increase the incidences of infantile colic and respiratory infections. Nicotine also lowers maternal basal prolactin concentrations, lesser milk volume.


    Passive smoking refers to inhalation of smoke exhaled by smokers or environmental tobacco smoke. Although risks to health from passive exposure are lower than those from active smoking, nevertheless studies have established passive smoking as a cause of lung cancer. Passive smoking also increases the risk of heart diseases.

V.  Caution:

  1. Avoid ‘smokey ‘ environment such as pubs, cafes, and public smokers.
  2. Ensure no smoking is allowed in your house, as the smoke stays in the house for a while, especially if ventilation is poor.
  3. Do not smoke in the presence of children, elderly and pregnant women.

For more information and assistance, ask our health professionals at





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