Pasman: Nicotine is an unfairly demonized substance

Nicotine and tobacco are inextricably linked in most people’s minds. It turns out that nicotine, the drug most commonly seen in tobacco cigarettes, might not be that bad for you after all.

Studies have shown nicotine to be beneficial in preventing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as helping to treat ADHD, depression and anxiety.

Nicotine binds to nicotinic receptors in the brain, which are implicated in controlling attention, memory and motor control. Former UO psychology professor Richard Marracco first discovered the relationship between nicotine and attention in 1997.

Nicotine is a well known cognitive enhancer; it improves attention and working memory. I’m sure this article is going to anger some people, since we all have been taught the harmful effects caused by using tobacco products and the addictive potential of nicotine. It may be hard to approach this topic with an open mind, due to the fact many people have been affected by relatives and friends who were diagnosed with lung diseases or cancer.

The World Health Organization states, “Tobacco is the single greatest preventable cause of death in the world today.”

Everyone knows of the lies and corruption, as can be seen by the countless lawsuits, involved with the tobacco industry.

I’m not trying to suggest that anyone pick up a cigarette and start smoking. I’m simply asking you to set aside any bias and attempt to approach nicotine with a neutral perspective.

Dan Hurley, an award-winning science journalist, has discussed the potential benefits of nicotine in Scientific American and Discover Magazine articles. Despite there being a variety of studies suggesting the benefits of the substance, there is a very negative stigma that nicotine carries around due to its connection with smoking.

“The medical community is rightly very cautious regarding making positive statements on nicotine,” Hurley said.

What people are beginning to realize is that nicotine does not have to be directly tied to smoking, there are many other ways to get it. In the past several years, there has been an influx of e-cigarettes and vaping, but although they are better than smoking, e-cigs may not be totally safe. Elisabeth Maxwell, a health promotion specialist in the UO health center, cautions e-cig users.

“There is not a lot of science around e-cigs,” said Maxwell. “There might be potential health risks.”

Other options to ingest nicotine are patches, gum and lozenges. These products are generally involved in smoking cessation programs, but they appear to be relatively harmless. Hurley wore a 7mg nicotine patch on his arm as we spoke about them.

“[It is] hard to get lab animals addicted to plain nicotine,” Hurley said. “People should not expect a nicotine patch to become addictive.”

Although Hurley advocates that the patches should not be addictive, nicotine itself triggers dopamine in the brain, leading to feelings of intense pleasure and euphoria, which can bring along the potential for addiction.

For those who do decide to experiment with nicotine, it’s best to use it in low doses and only occasionally. A nicotine patch or piece of gum with a high dose might be helpful for someone trying to break a smoking addiction, but it would almost certainly overwhelm a novice user.

Nicotine is a legal substance; anyone over the age of 18 can purchase it. Just like many things, nicotine can be used as a tool for either good or bad depending on the way it is used. It’s each person’s responsibility to weigh the positives with the negatives and decide for themselves whether to use nicotine.

I’m not trying to promote that anyone use nicotine, but I am suggesting that we begin more of a discussion on it. Bring it up at the next party you go to; you’ll be sure to turn a few heads.

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Toby Pasman

Toby Pasman