When asked about the effects of smoking, the question usually refers to how smoking is detrimental to our lungs, throat or mouth. Did you know that cigarettes effect every organ, nerve, muscle, brain receptor site, artery, vein and tissue in our bodies! When we smoke, the drug nicotine, tar and other additives travel through our blood stream throughout our entire body. We have heard that smoking causes lung cancer...did you know that it also causes bladder cancer and harms our reproductive systems? However, perhaps the most significant organ effected is our brain.
When we smoke, our brain is not only effected… it physically changes!
First of all, when we DON'T smoke, the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, triggers the release of happy, relaxed, feel good chemicals in our brains (such as, dopamine and serotonin) at the appropriate amounts and intervals. These “feel good chemicals” are received by receptor sites in our brain and processed.
When we smoke, the receptor sites in our brain receive the nicotine instead of acetylcholine (you can say that nicotine “hijacks” the receptor sites), and acetylcholine production is slowed or stopped, resulting in not as many happy, relaxed, feel good chemicals in our body. With each and every puff, nicotine hijacks more receptor sites (that were meant to receive acetylcholine…now they receive nicotine).
This is when the downward cycle begins: our natural neurotransmitters are no longer working, so on we smoke to replace these feel good chemicals with nicotine. We have to, because the nicotine has hijacked the receptor sites in our brain…they are literally now nicotine receptor sites instead of acetylcholine receptor sites! The more we smoke, the more our brain "craves" the feel good chemicals (now known by our changed brain as nicotine).
Additionally, there is much we don’t know about cigarettes, including all of the additives that they are being produced with. What is even (potentially) scarier is that we DO know of many additives in the cigarettes, and KNOW that they cause cancer! I’m surprised there isn’t more hype about this, especially now with the media attention on plastics producing harmful fumes…we’re throwing out our water bottles and baby bottles, but still consuming cigarettes? I digress…
According to the Wired Magazine (May 2008), there are a few other additives that I just learned about, that also effect the brain:
- Levulinic acid and methanol are used as analgesics (pain reducer), to lessen the burning sensation of the inhaled smoke. Levulinic acid also helps bind nicotine to the neurotransmitters, making the cycle above even more powerful.
- Sugar (really!) is added to give the nicotine an extra “kick” and provide even more positive reinforcement to your brain to keep craving the cigarette.
And, lastly, the most comical additive:
- Copaiba Oil, used to increase the combustibility of the cigarette. Why is this humorous? This oil is also used as a folk remedy for prostate tumors and gonorrhea.
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