What is nicotine?
Nicotine is a stimulant drug and the primary psychoactive component of tobacco. Tobacco is one of 70 different commercially grown plants belonging to the nightshade family, which also includes eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers.
Most commonly encountered in the form of tobacco leaf, nicotine is one of the most widely used drugs on the planet.
Tobacco is indigenous to the Americas and was not introduced to Europe until the 1500s, although its use among pre-Columbian cultures dates back thousands of years. Non-commercialized tobacco has major cultural relevance in many communities.
What are the effects?
Nicotine produces focus enhancement, feelings of relaxation, appetite suppression, stimulation, and mild euphoria.
Nicotine also increases heart rate and blood pressure.
The effects can usually be felt immediately and can last up to 30 minutes depending on the dose and form used.
First-time users often feel dizzy or nauseous, even after using a small dose. This is sometimes known as being “domed.”
What is a typical dose?
Tobacco leaf is usually smoked in cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, but is also found in smokeless forms such as snuff, which is sniffed up the nose, or dip/chewing tobacco, which is held inside the mouth.
A certain preparation of tobacco leaf called “shisha” is smoked in a type of water pipe known as a “hookah.”
Nicotine, in its isolated form, can also be inhaled using specially manufactured “vape” devices that vaporize a nicotine-containing liquid. Other tobacco-free nicotine products include gum, lozenges, and patches, which are primarily used to aid in quitting tobacco.
Since tobacco is a natural product, nicotine content varies greatly. Vape liquid is available in a wide range of concentrations. Tobacco plants have been genetically engineered in recent years to have a higher nicotine content.
A “dose” of nicotine will vary substantially depending on its concentration, which is different for each of the administration methods listed above. People who don’t usually consume nicotine will require much less exposure to it to feel its effects.
Tobacco is highly carcinogenic, although nicotine itself is not. Regular smokers have a much greater risk of developing lung cancer and other forms of cancer.
If you choose to smoke tobacco, try to smoke outdoors. Smoking indoors increases the health risks associated with smoking and can impact the health of non-smokers (and pets) who share your space.
Smoking tobacco increases the risk of heart disease, circulatory problems, bronchitis, chronic cough, and emphysema.
Like any drug, it’s possible to use nicotine compulsively and develop a problematic relationship with it. It may be a good idea to take a break if you find yourself regularly using nicotine as a coping mechanism, or feeling very anxious at the thought of going without it for a period of time. It is strongly recommended to use nicotine in moderation and avoid daily use.
Depression, irritability, restlessness, and anxiety are some of the withdrawal symptoms experienced by those who stop using nicotine after a period of regular use. Nicotine withdrawal is not dangerous, but it can be very physically and mentally uncomfortable.
More harm reduction tips
Although available evidence indicates that vaping is significantly less risky than smoking, much is still unknown about the potential health impacts.
A number of overdoses, some fatal, have occurred in children following the ingestion of vape liquid. Always store far from the reach of children.
Although vaping has helped many people quit using tobacco, the consumption of nicotine in any form still carries the risk that one might develop compulsive use and/or physical dependence.
If you choose to switch to vaping, be aware that you may decrease carcinogen consumption but drastically increase nicotine consumption.