- Personal Health Information & Self-Help
Nicotine more harmful than Cocaine
People who smoke cigarettes are drug addicts. We all know that. Nicotine is one of the gateway drugs to cocaine. Smoking cigarettes is similar to smoking a crack pipe. Nicotine takes 8 seconds to get to the brain from the lungs. Once it is in the brain, it binds itself to brain cells that are responsible for the release of dopamine. Nicotine and cocaine both releases dopamine.
Dopamine affects what is called the brain's reward and pleasure circuit, which are structures within the brain involved with learning, appetite, memory function, and pleasurable feelings. As the excess dopamine overwhelms this area of the brain, it triggers feelings of pleasure.
After a period of time (about 40 minutes in most smokers), the effects of nicotine begins to erode. This gives a smoker the urge to have another cigarette. Consequently, addiction starts with regular use of cigarettes. This causes the brains chemical structure and signaling to change in order to adapt to the continuous intake of nicotine. Instead of the brain naturally regulating its dopamine level, the brain will downsize the manufacturing of dopamine as it makes the adjustment to the excess levels.
Psychological Addiction is defined by the continuous use of a substance even though it decreases the health of the user. Physiological addiction is characterized by when a drug has the ability to turn on the reward mechanism in the brain. Because stimulating this neural circuitry makes you feel so good, you will continue to do it again and again to get those feelings back. People who recently started smoking cigarette build up a tolerance to nicotine. Therefore a higher nicotine intake is required to get the same reward in the brain than before. This is the same and main reason why cocaine is addictive.
The dark side to nicotine is withdrawal problems. This is noticed with all addictive drugs. Nicotine effects are short lived. It takes the body about an hour to rid itself of the drug. Therefore a regular user of cigarette will smoke a cigarette every hour at least. Here are the effects triggered when a cigarette smoker tries to quit smoking:
· Craving for the drug
The brain will automatically increase the amount of nicotine receptors in order to adapt to the large intake of nicotine. When the intake of nicotine is discontinued, the receptors remain. This causes a chemical imbalance in the brain, which in turn leads to a deep craving for the drug. After 3-4 months without nicotine intake, the brain will return to its regular structure.
Social and Economic effects of nicotine must also be taken into consideration. Ever wondered why cigarette is 'the party drug'. Nicotine added to cigarettes makes it the number one used drug in the world? It is quite unlikely that the cigarette industry would be a trillion dollar industry without nicotine in its product. In order to get the cigarettes to sell, the manufacturers laces the product with this drug. This method is used hoping to get first time users hooked. Those first time users become loyal repeat users. They in turn generate easy profits for the cigarette industry.
Non-users or curious onlookers are at the forefront of those being targeted. Users of cigarettes shell out a large portion of their income for this drug. The poorer the person, the larger the percentage of their income goes to cigarettes. The social and biological implication of the drug arises as a result of the use of this drug around other people, especially children, even the unborn. Society has taken steps to curb smoking within some public and private areas in order to reduce these implications.
Let’s look at the political side of nicotine. Cigarettes are one the main source of income for governments across the globe. A special tax is always levied on cigarettes because of its addictive nature. Governments in turn reap a lot of internal revenue from cigarettes. The FDA never bans cigarettes or the use of nicotine. However on the FDA’s website http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm259624.htm ,there are some warnings:
Proposed Graphic Health Warnings for Cigarette Packages and Advertisements
WARNING: Cigarettes are addictive.
WARNING: Tobacco smoke can harm your children.
WARNING: Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease.
WARNING: Cigarettes cause cancer.
WARNING: Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease.
WARNING: Smoking during pregnancy can harm your baby.
WARNING: Smoking can kill you. WARNING: Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in non-smokers.
WARNING: Quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health.
All cigarette producers are required to put one of these warnings on cigarette package and advertisements. I have never really seen on a cigarette box or ad warning that cigarettes are addictive. It’s always smoking kills or causes cancer.
I would like to include a recent study showing that cocaine addicts can get high off nicotine.http://www.ash.org.uk/media-room/press-releases/cocaine-addicts-confuse-drug-impact-of-nicotine
Press release 2nd February 1999
(ASH) Action on Smoking and Health
Cocaine addicts confuse drug impact of nicotine and cocaine...In the first study to compare the subjective effects of cocaine and nicotine , hard drug users frequently thought they were taking cocaine or heroin, when they were actually taking nicotine. 10 cocaine-addicted smokers were injected with high, medium and low doses of cocaine or nicotine  without knowing what they were taking. They were asked to rate the drug sensations (both good and bad), to guess what the drug was,and to say how much money they would pay for the experience offered by the drug. The findings are remarkable.
· Subjects found that nicotine had a comparable drug impact to cocaine - and the high dose of nicotine had greater drug effect than the high dose of cocaine.
· The 'rush' and 'high' were greater from nicotine than from cocaine.
· The highest levels of 'good sensation' were achieved from the highest dose of nicotine. However, nicotine also had more negative effects, such as 'jitters', than cocaine.
· Most users identified nicotine as a stimulant, of these the majority (75%) thought they were taking cocaine when they were actually taking nicotine. At the highest dose of nicotine, 40% thought they were taking an opiate such as heroin.
· Though nicotine had the largest drug effect and the highest good sensation, the subjects were prepared to pay less for it because of the negative effects. The average willingness to pay for the high dose of cocaine was $6.32 but $3 for the highest nicotine fix.
Clive Bates, Director of ASH commented: "We know tobacco is powerfully addictive and that nicotine affects the brain in subtle ways that are similar to hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. We tend to think of nicotine as a soft drug, but this research adds weight to the idea that it is more like a hard drug, albeit one that is legal and in widespread use.
"A big difference between cocaine and nicotine is that tobacco users take their nicotine in a cocktail of four thousand of toxic chemicals. The vicious combination of addiction and poison is what leads to 120,000 smoking deaths per year in the UK. Taking nicotine by inhaling cigarette smoke is like injecting hard drugs through a dirty syringe." Jones H, Garrett B, Griffiths R, 'Subjective and Physiological Effects of Intravenous Nicotine and Cocaine in Cigarette Smoking Cocaine Abusers' the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. 288:188-197 January 1999.http://jpet.aspetjournals.org/content/vol288/issue1/
The study used intravenously injected doses of 0.75, 1.5, 3.0mg nicotine per 70 kg body weight. This covers the low, typical and high dose of nicotine that can be drawn from smoking a cigarette. For cocaine, the doses were 10, 20, 40 mg cocaine per 70 kg body weight. A 'line' of cocaine typically contains 20-30 mg of cocaine hydrochloride. Placebos were also used.
In Conclusion the main reason why nicotine is more dangerous than cocaine is availability, legality and cost. Nicotine can be bought in the supermarket. Even though nicotine has the same reward mechanism (addictive) effects as cocaine, it can be obtained legally. This will result in a lower cost for the same drug reaction in comparison to other drugs that also release dopamine in the brain.