The Benefits of Nicotine

The Benefits of Nicotine | Daily Reader

Nicotine has been demonized in virtually every culture, perhaps with good reason. As every pipe smoker knows, it has some benefits. We enjoy pipe smoking for the flavors, for the relaxing aspects of smoke rising around us, for the craftsmanship and history of the pipes, for the rituals of smoking, and, it must be admitted, for the pleasurable aspects of the nicotine in our tobaccos. Since we've all been inundated with the negative aspects of nicotine and the dire warnings of anti-tobacco interests, perhaps we should indulge ourselves with some of its positive attributes.

Nicotine's most concentrated source is tobacco, but it exists naturally in other plants. Tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, cauliflower, and green peppers contain nicotine. However, as many may surmise, smoking an eggplant is less than satisfying, and a couple of puffs of our favorite tobacco will deliver more nicotine than a potato. Fruits and vegetables are not nicotine-rich enough to provide physiological advantages.

Nicotine is a stimulant that produces a variety of cognitive benefits, but it has other uses as well, such as combatting everyday nuisances.

Nicotine Gets Rid of Pests

Regarding pests, we're not talking only about your Uncle Spiff, who monopolizes conversations with his views on politics and Amway and scurries away like a spooked mole rat with the slightest whiff of tobacco. Lighting a pipe can make disagreeable relatives of the anti-tobacco variety scatter, but other pests are likewise deflected.

smoking an eggplant is less than satisfying,

The Benefits of Nicotine | Daily Reader

Nicotine is an effective pest repellant in the garden; for example, a mixture of compost, garlic powder, and tobacco controls aphids. A mixture of water, garlic, and tobacco gets rid of centipedes. Gophers and moles despise tobacco; sprinkling tobacco into a gopher hole makes that gopher pack its bags and emigrate to another neighborhood.

If spiders in the yard are a problem, boil a gallon of water and add a packet of chewing tobacco. Let it cool and apply the solution in spray form. The spiders will leave. However, it wouldn't be suitable for indoor use as the solution may leave unsightly stains.

Internal pests may also be combatted with tobacco, though it's recommended only for survival situations post-apocalypse. Eating a small amount of tobacco will eliminate intestinal parasites, such as those ingested with unclean drinking water. David Maccar writes, "Survival experts say you can just straight up eat about a cigarette and a half's worth of tobacco to effectively kill off intestinal parasites. Do it again 48 hours later to be sure." Doing it again is probably harder than it sounds. If you've ever eaten a cigarette, you know it's a method of last resort, and as an experience, its superiority over intestinal parasites is questionable.

Other everyday uses have also been employed over time. Historically and still today, tobacco was used in parts of India as toothpaste and as a teeth whitener. Old traditional remedies include nicotine in tobacco poultices, which were used to alleviate bee stings. Some Native Americans used tobacco poultices to draw venom from snake bites. Tobacco is evidently prized for outdoor survival.

Tobacco poultices make sense because nicotine helps repair damaged body tissues when applied topically. It boosts the growth of capillaries and injured tissues and regenerates blood vessels while increasing blood flow to the affected area. ("Twelve Unexpected Nicotine Health Benefits," Newhealthadvisor.org.)

Nicotine and Mental Health

While keeping bugs away is an admirable characteristic of any compound, nicotine's most impressive benefits fall in the category of mental health.

Eating a small amount of tobacco will eliminate intestinal parasites,

The Benefits of Nicotine | Daily Reader

There has been a robust medical research push centering on nicotine in recent years. It should be no surprise that it does not measure the benefits of nicotine from smoking but rather from nicotine patches, mostly, and sometimes other modes of administration like intravenous drips, which sound awesome. This research indicates that nicotine shares properties with antidepressants and stimulates the release of dopamine (the "feel-good" neurotransmitter) in the forebrain.

As summarized in "Cognitive Effects of Nicotine: Recent Progress" by Gerald Valentine and Mehmet Sofuoglu, "the preponderance of evidence from animal and human studies has established cognitive-enhancing effects as a clinically relevant dimension of nicotine psychopharmacology."

People who are challenged by depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or anxiety, according to one study, are twice as likely to smoke as those without (41% vs. 22.5%), and those living with schizophrenia smoke at three times the rate of healthier people. Valentines' and Sofuoglu's summary reports even higher rates:

The prevalence of smoking ranges from 44-88% in schizophrenia, 40-60% in major depression, 55-70% bipolar disorder, and 40-50% in PTSD [33, 34]. Similarly, smoking rates range from 50 to 70% for individuals with alcohol use disorder [35], 70 to 80% with cocaine, and to over 90% for opioid use disorder [36]. While the underlying mechanisms linking psychiatric disorders to the high rates of TUD remain to be elucidated, one likely contributor is the effect nicotine has on ameliorating the cognitive deficits commonly associated with psychiatric disorders.

nicotine helps repair damaged body tissues when applied topically.

Dopamine release probably helps considerably with these problems. Nicotine boosts dopamine and interrupts the braking mechanism for suspending its release, so there's a doubling of efficacy. Whatever the process, people find that nicotine provides some relief from dopamine-dependent symptoms.

Potential benefits in Alzheimer's Prevention

Studies on nicotine preventing or delaying Alzheimer's disease appear to be encouraging. The use of nicotine for mild cognitive impairment was investigated by Paul Newhouse and colleagues in 2010, and they found interesting results:

The primary cognitive outcome measure (CPT) showed a significant nicotine-induced improvement. There was no statistically significant effect on clinician-rated global improvement. The secondary outcome measures showed significant nicotine-associated improvements in attention, memory, and psychomotor speed, and improvements were seen in patient/informant ratings of cognitive impairment.

nicotine shares properties with antidepressants and stimulates the release of dopamine

If we want to get more scientific about it, to a level that's difficult to understand even when smoking high-nicotine blends, the abstract of a review study by Ahmad Alhowail provides some intricate details:

In Alzheimer's disease, nicotine improves cognitive impairment by enhancing protein kinase B (also referred to as Akt) activity and stimulating phosphoinositide 3‑kinase/Akt signaling, which regulates learning and memory processes. Nicotine may also activate thyroid receptor signaling pathways to improve memory impairment caused by hypothyroidism. In healthy individuals, nicotine improves memory impairment caused by sleep deprivation by enhancing the phosphorylation of calmodulin‑dependent protein kinase II, an essential regulator of cell proliferation and synaptic plasticity. Furthermore, nicotine may improve memory function through its effect on chromatin modification via the inhibition of histone deacetylases, which causes transcriptional changes in memory‑related genes. Finally, nicotine administration has been demonstrated to rescue long‑term potentiation in individuals with sleep deprivation, Alzheimer's disease, chronic stress and hypothyroidism, primarily by desensitizing α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. To conclude, nicotine has several cognitive benefits in healthy individuals, as well as in those with cognitive dysfunction associated with various diseases.

The interesting takeaway is that nicotine not only benefits those with early Alzheimer's disease but also those who suffer from sleep deprivation and stress by "desensitizing α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors," whatever those may be. And it helps healthy individuals as well. It's encouraging that scientists have identified some of the specific biological pathways by which nicotine helps us, while we pipe smokers have noted the benefits only in a general way. We may not know an α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor from a sewing machine bobbin, but we know from experience that nicotine helps with stress and mental clarity.

Nicotine boosts dopamine and interrupts the braking mechanism for suspending its release

Parkinson's Disease

Clinicians have long noted that Parkinson's disease is less prevalent in smokers than in non-smokers. Parkinson's is a disorder caused by a reduction in dopamine production in the brain. In Parkinson's sufferers, neurons begin to die in the basal ganglia, which is an area of the brain that controls movement. The cause of this cell death is unknown. These neurons, when healthy, produce dopamine, and the reduced dopamine resulting from their death causes problems with physical locomotion.

It's a progressive disease with symptoms of tremor, stiffness, slowed movement, impaired memory and cognitive function, and reductions in coordination and balance. We might assume that since nicotine improves dopamine levels, smokers have a protective advantage. This defense is more robust in current smokers than in former smokers and decreases after quitting smoking.

nicotine improves memory impairment caused by sleep deprivation

However, a study of 163 participants indicated that transdermal nicotine, without smoking, did not help. Those using nicotine did worse than the placebo group. It's thought that the increase in hemoglobin-bound carbon monoxide may have something to do with the protective effect of smoking. Counterintuitively, carbon monoxide, in low doses, provides potent neuroprotective properties. It's a conundrum and possibly a rare situation where smoking itself is more beneficial than nicotine, though no doctor would suggest it.

Appetite Suppressant

Decades of studies and observations have noted that smokers tend to be a bit thinner than nonsmokers. Some of us are bonus-sized nevertheless, but on average, we'd probably be a bit larger without smoking.

A scientist at Yale University was studying depression and gave mice a compound similar to nicotine, and then noticed that these mice ate less than their counterparts. Whether they were still depressed, the mice did not say.

Researchers decided to investigate the possibility that nicotine reduced appetite. They focused on the hypothalamus, where appetite is regulated in the brain. Nicotine generated increased activity in POMC cells, which govern eating behavior.

Parkinson's disease is less prevalent in smokers than in non-smokers

It turned out that the activated receptors on these cells pertain to the fight-or-flight response. When this response is triggered, the body preserves energy to evade a charging leopard and becomes uninterested in food. Our enthusiasm for Rocky Road ice cream wanes as we run from predators. It's an evolutionary and biological priority. In the Pleistocene Epoch, the genes of those who stopped for a snack when dodging dire wolves were not passed to future generations.

Weight Loss

Studies on weight loss in response to nicotine have been conducted on rats, not humans, but we might infer some similarities. We won't go into comparisons of humans and rats (again, think of your Uncle Spiff), but many mechanisms in the brains of humans and rats work similarly.

Nicotine reduces fat gain, as reported in a study by Laura E. Rupprecht et al.:

The results of the present study demonstrate that self-administered nicotine can shift RER [respiratory exchange ratio] to reflect an increase in fat utilization, without changes in total food intake, activity, or energy expenditure. Changes in RER preceded nicotine-induced suppression of weight gain, which was observed as suppressed body fat gain, suggesting that increased fat utilization may cause weight reduction following nicotine self-administration. Very low nicotine intake (0.12 mg/kg on Day 2) was sufficient to suppress RER, consistent with recent data demonstrating that very low doses of self-administered nicotine suppress body weight gain independent of food intake. It has been hypothesized that cumulative nicotine intake over many days may be directly correlated with body weight suppression.

While smoking may help with weight control by offering a behavioral alternative to eating, nicotine provides a real increase in metabolic rate, increasing the expenditure of energy and thermogenesis (heat production) in body fat by about 10%. The increase is enhanced during exercise and resting states after meals.

General Mental Health

Nicotine increases the production of neurotransmitters, particularly those associated with cognitive function, such as dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine, and this effect provides benefits for a wide population.

very low doses of self-administered nicotine suppress body weight gain independent of food intake.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that help our brain cells communicate and process information and regulate energy, sleep, mood, stress, focus, memory, learning, libido, and other necessary functions. A deficiency or misapplication of neurotransmitters can often result in depression and other unfavorable conditions. Nicotine can act like a neurotransmitter by binding to the same receptors in the brain, particularly the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, and it also protects neurons from degenerating.

The Benefits of Nicotine | Daily Reader

Because nicotine improves attention, memory, concentration, and reaction time, it helps alleviate symptoms of ADHD. For symptoms of depression, nicotine elevates mood by boosting serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine. Overall, nicotine can reduce the state of sadness.

Nicotine increases brainwaves and general electrical activity. Beta waves are associated with stress, and they can be balanced by an increase in alpha waves in both hemispheres of the brain rather than one, as is often the case with depression. Nicotine promotes this effect.

Nicotine's Attraction

No one is suggesting that one smokes to achieve therapeutic benefits, but many of us have noticed improvements in our mental acuity, concentration, and stress levels associated with our pipes. It's encouraging that more and more studies are investigating the benefits of nicotine. They, of course, rely upon transdermal or intravenous nicotine rather than that delivered by smoking, but it's irrefutable that nicotine absorption is an attractive collateral effect of smoking.

nicotine improves attention, memory, concentration, and reaction time,

While we've concentrated on nicotine's benefits, there is also abundant research that detracts from its positive effects. However, we hear about the negatives all the time, and for a balanced view, it's nice to know that nicotine isn't perhaps the diabolical epitome of villainy that our culture has promoted. As with everything, there are positive and negative characteristics. It's nice to know, however, that our attraction to smoking is not without its favorable aspects. Nicotine is part of why we enjoy smoking, and understanding why provides a better understanding of our favorite pastime and ourselves.

Bibliography

  • Alhowail, Ahmad. "Molecular Insights Into the Benefits of Nicotine on Memory and Cognition (Review)" (June 2021) PubMed.
  • Charlton, Anne. "Medicinal Uses of Tobacco in History" (2004), National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  • Gadye, Levi. "Here Are the Ways Smoking May Actually Be 'Good' For You" (2015), Gizmodo.com.
  • Hamilton, Jon. "The Skinny On Smoking: Why Nicotine Curbs Appetite" (June 2011), NPR.org.
  • Maccar, David. "Four Uses for Tobacco in a Survival Situation" (2021), Wideopenspaces.com.
  • McDonald, Jim. "Nine Benefits of Nicotine That May Surprise You" (2023), Vaping360.com.
  • Newhouse, Paul, et al. "Nicotine Treatment of Mild Cognitive Impairment" Neurology (Jan. 2012), National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  • Pennington, Tess. "It Ain't Just For Smoking: Known But Beneficial Uses For Tobacco" (2010), Readynutrition.com.
  • Price, Leonie R. and Martinez, Javier. "Biological Effects of Nicotine Exposure: A Narrative Review of the Scientific Literature" (2019), National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  • "Puffing Away Sadness" (2020), Harvard Health Publishing
  • Rose, Kenneth N., Schwartzchild, Michael A., Gomperts, Stephen N. "Clearing the Smoke: What Protects Smokers from Parkinson's Disease?" (Jan. 2024) Movement Disorders, International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society.
  • Rupprecht, Laura E. et al. "Self-Administered Nicotine Increases Fat Metabolism and Suppresses Weight Gain in Male Rats" (Jan. 2018), National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  • "Twelve Unexpected Nicotine Health Benefits," Newhealthadvisor.org.
  • Valentine, Gerald and Sofuoglu, Mehmet. "Cognitive Effects of Nicotine: Recent Progress" (2018), National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  • Category:   Tobacco Talk
    Tagged in:   Tobacco

    Comments

      • Blake on June 30, 2024
      • I used to chew, and spit into a half-gallon container. Then when it was full pour it down an carpenter ant hole. Those ants will pee acid on you, and it burns. Hydrocortisone cream helps, but I felt like getting even too.

      • Chico on June 30, 2024
      • There's also some evidence that it helps ward off Covid-19, and reduces deaths. The French were giving patches to doctors and nurses during the height of the pandemic.

      • Jean Dugas on June 30, 2024
      • Chuck Stanion, my favorite consumate gentleman and fellow wordsmith! Ironically enough as I've aged, I'd been enjoying all forms of tobacco but most center on cigars and pipes, going so far to go through the full gauntlet from growing, fermenting, processing, rolling and 'quality testing'! As one does when you need to visit the doctor more often in the later end of life, filling out the requisite checkboxes as you do, I give pause when it comes to the tobacco use, as they simply assume cigarettes are the only choice.I am of the opinion that natural is the way to go, and I definitely prescribe myself at least five daily servings of my favorite vegetable. Despite what one would assume about negative health effects over a long history of tobacco enjoyment, you'd never know it from my tests. In fact just because I was curious, I unticked the tobacco use box one year as the ol' doc has to thump you over the head with cessation tactics on every visit. They couldn't tell the difference from the tests, so why should I?

      • Yerna Fumpf on June 30, 2024
      • Wow, this article feels like 1941.

      • John on June 30, 2024
      • Great comment, Jean. Well put.

      • Dave Tucker on July 1, 2024
      • I have noticed a calming effect for my Tourettes Syndrome. Thank you for this article!

      • Sean Adams on July 1, 2024
      • There’s also studies that show decreased incidents of Ulcerative Colitis for smokers and on the flip side smokers who quit smoking have a higher rate of developing the UC. I’ve suffered from UC for more than a decade so much so I have my colon removed and just came across the article from WebMD. They do not know if it’s the nicotine or the increase in mucus production which helps coat the stomach lining protecting it from ulcers. Based on this I started pipe smoking about 3 months ago and my occurrence of flare ups has decreased. All one needs to do is a simple internet search for smoking and reduction of Ulcerative Colitis and you’ll find the articles.

      • Stephen Wilson on July 1, 2024
      • Thanks for another great article, Chuck!Here's an anecdote for you. Many, many years ago I smoked cigarettes when it was not convenient to smoke my pipe. I was diagnosed with pneumonia and sent to a pulmonologist, who further diagnosed me with asthma - at age 35. He told me that the cigarettes were killing me and that I had to stop smoking them -- too bad, he said, because the nicotine is actually good for your condition. I told him about the pipe and he said to keep it up, just don't inhale. That has been my modus operandi for the last 40 years, with no recurrence of lung disease and my asthma is under control (without steroids). So, as you so adroitly pointed out, Lady Nicotina has a good side!

      • Dennis Savini on July 1, 2024
      • Nicotine IS the number one uncoupling agent for the mitochondria.

      • Donald Lason on July 1, 2024
      • Also, I've read back in the early 1900's, nicotine was used to cure cancer. during the virus scare, smokers didn't have any ill effects. They say the nicotine receptors in your body had nicotine attached to them and is responsible for carrying the viruses through the body.

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