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How It Works

To win a fight, you have to know your enemy well. This is why, in I don't want to smoke anymore, Dr. O'Hare explains, among other things, how nicotine works in our body. In a few simple words, here are its mechanisms of action in the nervous system, organs and brain.Initially, it was plants (those of the tomato family) that invented nicotine to defend themselves against herbivores and insects.

Effects on the brain

By blocking acetylcholine receptors, nicotine reacts to the secretion of other neurotransmitters or hormones including dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. This effect is very rapid, less than seven seconds, or the first puff of a cigarette. The stimulation is intense, it increases the impression of alert and presence (noradrenaline), gives an impression of pleasure and relative good humor (serotonin) and stimulates the center of the reward (dopamine). The feeling of euphoria is immediately followed by a feeling of relaxation due to the mimetic effect of acetylcholine.

The biochemical sham

The characteristic of an impostor is to take someone’s place, to make believe that one has the characteristics or the capacities without really having them. Nicotine is an impostor, making it look like it has characteristics of acetylcholine, a brain chemical messenger (or neurotransmitter). It thus triggers certain parasympathetic effects at low doses (relaxation) and certain sympathetic effects (stimulants) at high doses.

First problem: it is that this impostor is not under the control of the autonomic nervous system; nicotine is not self-regulated like acetylcholine is. Regulation therefore depends on the intake of smoked nicotine. Without this regulation, there is saturation in pseudo-acetylcholine, the body defends itself and compensates for the imbalance by increasing its production of sympathetic hormones. Hence the imbalance and the sympathetic effects at high doses. When the smoker smokes, he saturates all his receptors in a few seconds: sympathetic stimulating effect. Gradually the level of nicotine drops and the effects of relaxation take hold: parasympathetic effect. It’s a lie! All the regulation of the autonomic nervous system is no longer automatic but under the sole influence of successive cigarettes which stimulate and then relax.

Second problem: acetylcholine, the real one, is eliminated very quickly. Receivers are released instantly to allow efficient adaptation in real time. Nicotine takes the place of acetylcholine and keeps it much longer. It is no longer a simple transient takeover, it is an irremovable chemical dictatorship. Only a revolution can overcome it: quitting smoking.

Third problem: everything wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for addiction. It is also, unfortunately for smokers, totally under the control of acetylcholine and therefore of its impostor.

Effects of nicotine on the organs

Nicotine has the same effects as adrenaline and cortisol, rapid effect on heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure. It’s a rush of life, an ephemeral sense of vital presence, a stimulating puff, shoot mode, scout mode: always ready and alert.

How is this explained at the physiological level? The adrenal gland is very sensitive to the level of acetylcholine because it is responsible for constantly compensating it: when acetylcholine increases, this docile gland reacts directly and makes adrenaline to compensate.

The peripheral, cortical part of this gland, the bark (the adrenal cortex) is the supplier of cortisol for the whole body. It is dependent on neurotransmitters, called catecholamines, which are stimulated by acetylcholine in the brain.

Thus acetylcholine and its impostor have a direct influence on the sympathetic nervous system, briefly for the first, lastingly for the second.

Nicotine is a chemical stressor. It induces the same effects and the same consequences as chronic stress: cardiovascular diseases, premature aging, arterial hypertension, deterioration of the skin, thickening of the blood, coagulation problems, digestive disorders with diarrhea and / or constipation, kidney disease, diabetes and other metabolic diseases, immune system disorders, decreased libido and sex hormones, high cholesterol, reduced blood mental faculties, impaired memory and attention, difficulty in making decisions, insomnia, migraines and the list can go on.

Effects on the brain

By blocking acetylcholine receptors, nicotine reacts to the secretion of other neurotransmitters or hormones including dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. This effect is very rapid, less than seven seconds, or the first puff of a cigarette. The stimulation is intense, it increases the impression of alert and presence (noradrenaline), gives an impression of pleasure and relative good humor (serotonin) and stimulates the center of the reward (dopamine). The feeling of euphoria is immediately followed by a feeling of relaxation due to the mimetic effect of acetylcholine.

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