Combat Nicotine Addiction
Once upon a time, smoking was socially acceptable. More – it was recommended by just about every medical professional in the US. Times have changed, though. Today, we recognize that smoking (and any other form of tobacco use) is incredibly harmful to the body. Not only that, but we have realized that nicotine, the active drug in tobacco, is highly addictive. Some experts estimate that nicotine is even more addictive than drugs like heroin or cocaine.
What Is Nicotine Addiction?
Nicotine addiction is exactly what it sounds like – a dependence on nicotine. In the US, the most commonly seen situation is a smoker addicted to smoking cigarettes. However, nicotine addiction can occur in other ways. Any tobacco product has the potential to be addictive, including dip, snuff, cigars, pipe tobacco, home-rolled cigarettes, and more. Of course, it is not limited to just tobacco products.
Any product that contains nicotine should be considered highly addictive, and this includes “vape juice” that is atomized in vaporizers and inhaled. While vaping might not come with the same health problems that accompany tobacco use, they are no safer when it comes to nicotine addiction.
In a nutshell, those with a nicotine dependence cannot stop using products that contain nicotine, no matter what that use might be doing to their health, or their lives. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that nicotine addiction
"is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and use, even in the face of negative health consequences."
Symptoms of Nicotine Addiction
The symptoms of nicotine addiction are very similar to those shown by addicts of other substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs. It is only the lingering social acceptability of smoking that separates the symptoms of someone who needs a cigarette from someone who needs another drink or someone craving cocaine. Symptoms of addiction include:
- You cannot quit using tobacco or nicotine containing products. For instance, some smokers quit cigarettes and turn to vaping, but this only changes the delivery method. Nicotine is still being consumed.
- If you do not get nicotine on a regular schedule, you begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. These range from feelings of anxiety to irritability and an inability to concentrate.
- You refuse to quit nicotine even though there are obvious health issues.
- You stop partaking in physical activities that you once enjoyed because of smoking, other tobacco use, or other forms of nicotine delivery.
Effects of Nicotine Addiction on the Body
It is important to note that many of the health consequences of nicotine use are actually related to tobacco and the chemicals within the plant material. It should be understood that nicotine itself does not cause these problems. However, it is not without its issues. For instance, nicotine immediately raises blood pressure through the release of epinephrine in the body.
In addition to increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, nicotine also increases your resistance to insulin, and can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as other metabolic diseases. Nicotine affects the production and distribution of hormones within the body, which can affect your appetite, your sex drive and more. It also makes you more susceptible to heart disease, increases the damage done by oxidative stress, and puts you at greater risk for cancer.
The effects noted above are limited only to nicotine itself. The means of delivery (tobacco, usually) also has its own effects. For instance, toxins within tobacco dramatically increase your risk of cancer (lung, mouth, throat, etc.), as well as heart disease, hypertension, and numerous other diseases.
Conventional Treatments for Nicotine Addiction
A wide range of treatment options exist for those battling nicotine addiction, but the sad truth is that most of them are ineffective. Smoking cessation aids range from patches to gum to prescription medication, and even hypnosis. Sadly, while 50% of smokers try to quit each year, only about 6% of them are successful. Of those, many will eventually return to using nicotine in some way. It usually requires multiple attempts before a nicotine user is able to quit permanently. In addition to gum, patches, step-down programs and other options, a wide range of therapy sessions can also help smokers and other nicotine users hoping to kick the habit.
How Might Stem Cells Fight Nicotine Addiction?
While there is no shortage of smoking cessation aids out there, none is particularly effective, although they can help. The problem is that none of these products addresses the underlying issue of nicotine addiction. Stem cells are being studied for their use in helping defeat alcohol addiction and opioid addiction, as well as for potential benefit in stimulant addiction. There is hope that stem cell therapy will be able to help nicotine addicts, as well.
How might this work? It’s all about rewiring the way the brain’s neurons operate when dealing with addiction. Addictive substances, whether we’re talking about crack or nicotine, change the way that the brain operates. They affect the release of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, hijacking the brain’s reward system and affecting how we prioritize things like shelter, food, and even sex. Stem cell therapy promises to provide a way to reformat those areas and rebuild brain neural networks damaged by addictive substances.
Types of Stem Cells
It should be noted that some of the ongoing trials and studies involve the use of mesenchymal stem cells, also called autologous stem cells. These cells are harvested from the patients themselves, before being concentrated in a lab and reintroduced to the body. The problem with this approach is that mesenchymal stem cells have lost most of their energy and have compromised abilities to heal. They also have limited lifespans, because they are as old as the patient’s own body. There is also the fact that these cells also carry a lifetime of accumulated mutations that could trigger an immune system response.
Allogenic stem cells, or pluripotent stem cells, are harvested from umbilical cord blood and tissue. These are young, highly energetic cells that offer a lifetime of healing and division. There is currently no FDA-approved stem cell treatment, and all such treatments should be considered experimental.