Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical used in the production of tobacco and can be found not only in cigarettes but also within all sorts of nicotine replacement therapies, including the increasingly popular electronic cigarettes, or vaporizers. Medical News Today states that, “while not cancer-causing or excessively harmful on its own, nicotine is heavily addictive and exposes people to the extremely harmful effects of tobacco dependency.”

Upon entering the body, nicotine has a mass of effects. This chemical stimulates the adrenal glands, resulting in a surge of adrenaline coursing through the intaker’s veins. According to Medical News Today, it also causes a release of dopamine in the motivation and pleasure sections of the brain. This brings about a pleasurable sensation much like one would experience when taking heroin or cocaine. It also causes the pancreas to produce less insulin, resulting in an increase in blood sugar. Aside from being a stimulant, nicotine can also act as a sedative depending on the dose of nicotine and the individual’s nervous system arousal.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease that is encouraged by the addictive properties of the nicotine in cigarettes. In a 2015 analysis, about 15 out of every 100 adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. were current cigarette smokers, equating to approximately 36.5 millions adults. As stated on the Truth website, over 130 thousand Americans die each year due to smoking-related lung cancer and 36,000 die from other types of tobacco-causing cancers. 

“Consuming nicotine is also linked to raised alertness, euphoria, and a sensation of being relaxed,” states Medical News Today. These short term effects are often the most italicized in the marketing tactics of tobacco companies, highlighting the appealing impacts while neglecting to mention the harmful consequences.

People start smoking or vaping at various ages and for differing reasons, from peer pressure to the assumption that it will ease their stresses to influences from family members. Most regular smokers say they started smoking before the age of 18. 

To protect the privacy of certain individuals the names and identifying details have been changed.

“I started in fifth grade. I had some friends that had some. I thought it was cool and I started using it. And then my mom got vapes and then eventually she just bought me one,” said Timber Creek student Nick, who vapes on a regular basis.

“I started last year. My friend’s uncle was vaping. He let me try it and I liked it. It got me hooked on it,” said a second student, reinforcing the addictiveness of nicotine.

Nicotine can be consumed in a number of ways. When smoking a cigarette, the nicotine enters the lungs as a vapor and can reach the brain in less than ten seconds, taking effect within only a couple of drags. With nicotine replacement therapies, however, the nicotine takes longer to be absorbed through the skin or through the lining of the nose or mouth.

Rising from 1.5 percent to 16 percent, the use of electronic cigarettes among high schoolers continues to grow in popularity. Current evidence from the International Agency for Research on Cancer suggests that using liquid nicotine is a safer alternative to inhaling tobacco smoke, which increases the risk of heart disease and causes lung and other cancers. So while e-cigarettes and vaporizers can act as helpful smoking cessation therapies, any form of nicotine is still highly addictive. Therefore, liquid nicotine could act as a gateway of sorts to cigarettes if the person is not already consuming nicotine regularly.

“If you’re going to smoke or use nicotine, use vapes and don’t use actual cigarettes because cigarettes have chemicals in them that vapes don’t,” said Nick. Vapes contain vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol, both of which are safe to be inhaled, although extreme amounts of propylene glycol could prove somewhat toxic, and the excessive intake of any chemicals is damaging to the body. 

Vapes are one of many nicotine replacement therapies approved by the Food and Drug Administration to be used in smoking cessation therapy. Since nicotine is highly addictive, a person who smokes cigarettes can easily become dependent upon the chemical and trying to quit the habit often leads to harmful withdrawal symptoms and eventually a painful relapse.

“NRTs deliver a controlled dose of nicotine to a smoker to relieve withdrawal symptoms during the smoking cessation process,” according to Psychology Today. “They are most successful when used in combination with behavioral treatments.”

Vaping can be particularly beneficial in attempts to stop cigarette use, as it mimics many of the addictive behaviors that coincide with smoking, like raising the hand to the mouth and actually seeing the smoke inhaled. Liquid nicotine, unlike the nicotine patch or chewing gum, can imitate cigarette use without the harmful effects of tobacco. This form of therapy can help in a person’s process to stop smoking by slowly decreasing the amount of nicotine consumed until the body no longer needs as much of the drug to feel the effects. 

“I used to be addicted to nicotine but I use a vape to wean off of it. I keep going down in levels, so that I’m taking in less nicotine. It’s also a mental thing, you tell yourself it’s in there, even when it’s not,” said Tony, another Timber Creek student.

Additionally, the word nicotine is commonly used interchangeably with tobacco, but this is not the case. In fact, nicotine proves itself to be an effective cognitive enhancer when isolated.

Be Brain Fit states that investigative journalist Dan Hurley “learned that nicotine (distinct from tobacco) is a surprisingly safe and effective brain enhancer and potential treatment for neurological disorders including Parkinson’s, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Tourette’s syndrome, and schizophrenia.”

Overall, NRTs have been proven to be safer alternatives to smoking cigarettes, and isolated nicotine can act as a beneficial cognitive enhancer in some medical cases. However, nicotine is one of the most highly addictive drugs and can prove extremely harmful when consumed, especially alongside tobacco. The intake of nicotine often leads to tobacco dependency, which brings about vastly negative withdrawal symptoms, ranging from intense cravings to nausea to difficulty concentrating or even depression.

Read the introduction and other stories in our series “Hello, My Name is Drugs” at this link.

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By Tabitha Tomlinson

Tabitha is a senior who absolutely loves writing for the Talon. While she spends most of her time watching Netflix, she also enjoys writing, spending time with friends and family, and helping others. She adores coffee, pizza, and puppies.

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