Tobacco products have been so common place for all our lives that it is easy to think we know what their most precious ingredient, nicotine, is all about. It’s surprising though how little accuracy the average ordinary person’s knowledge actually contains. What is also rather surprising is that scientific research into nicotine and its effects is often contradictory, as we explain below. Nicotine has many myths which we will happily debunk, but also quite a few surprises in store for those that dare to read on.
Nicotine Does Not Cause Cancer
While vapers will hopefully be well aware of this one already, it’s a common misconception among non-smokers and many smokers that nicotine is a cause of cancer. But nicotine is not a carcinogen and thus does not cause cancer. Carcinogens are the chemicals and/or substances that directly cause cancer, many of which are abundant in tobacco smoke such as Acrolein, Nitrosamines and Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Thankfully, these carcinogens are not present in e-cigarette vapour, certainly not at the dangerous levels found in tobacco smoke.
Nicotine is Addictive, Probably
You should have known about this one as well, and most scientists will indeed agree that nicotine is addictive. However, while there are some who argue it is highly addictive, there are other scientists who argue that its addictive qualities have been greatly overestimated. One thing that is apparently clear is that the habit of smoking is just as responsible, probably much more so, than nicotine itself for creating generation after generation of addicted smokers.
Nicotine is a Natural Poison
That sounds quite alarming on the face of it, but the facts are that you need much, much more nicotine than is present in tobacco or electronic cigarettes to be at risk. Remember that most medicines are technically poisons too, insofar as they have physiological effects and side effects. The poison, however, is in the dose, and the dosage of nicotine in both tobacco and electronic cigarette products is way too low to be harmful.
Nicotine Has Positive Physiological Effects
Nicotine can increase blood pressure and the pulse rate, and is also considered to have therapeutic values, acting as an anti-inflammatory agent. Further positives are nicotine’s ability to reduce the effects of atopic disorders like allergic asthma. There is also documented evidence that it can delay the onset of Parkinson’s disease. However, there are negative effects too, such as nicotine potentially harming foetal development.
Nicotine is a Stimulant
Small doses of nicotine act as a stimulant to the brain, increasing awareness of our surroundings and heightening our senses. However…
Nicotine is also a Relaxant
Larger doses of nicotine act as a relaxant. In stressful situations, smokers and vapers alike will find puffing or vaping for a nicotine fix helps calm them down rather than stimulate them into increased anxiety. Because of nicotine’s ability to stimulate the brain in certain doses but relax it in others, it is known as a biphasic substance.
Nicotine Improves Mental Capacity
The relaxing effect of nicotine has also been scientifically proven to decrease aggression levels in human beings (and chimpanzees, for that matter). It is considered by researchers that this aggression-reduction element of nicotine helps improve concentration and decision-making abilities.
Science is Somewhat Confused About Nicotine’s Effect on the Brain
By confused, I mean that there are contradictory studies. As previously stated and linked above, some studies have shown nicotine to help delay Parkinson’s and also Alzheimer’s disease. However, there are also studies which claim nicotine can hasten the onset of both brain conditions. It is widely accepted though that any negative effects of nicotine on the brain are increased the younger the brain is exposed to it.
Nicotine is an Appetite Suppressant
Smokers and ex-smokers will likely already be aware of this fact. People quitting tobacco cigarettes often report an increase in appetite, usually gaining weight because of it. Tobacco was even specifically used for such an appetite suppressing purpose hundreds of years ago by indigenous Americans and colonial Europeans.
Nicotine is Named After a Frenchman
The word ‘nicotine’ comes from ‘Nicotiana tabacum’ which itself is named after a 16th century French diplomat and scholar called Jean Nicot. He was the ambassador to Portugal and received tobacco seeds from Brazil, sent by a Portuguese colonist named Luis de Gois, who we can only assume he was friendly with. Ambassador Nicot then sent the seeds to Paris and promoted their medicinal use, eventually having his name coined for the active ingredient once it was isolated by chemists.