Nicotine is an organic compound found in tobacco plants. It is highly addictive and carries many risks and health problems when used recreationally.
Nicotine is a stimulant that speeds up the transmission of information between the brain and the body. It is the main psychoactive ingredient in tobacco products, so this drug information page will focus on the effects of nicotine consumption through tobacco.
Tar and carbon monoxide (poisonous gas) are also released when tobacco is burned, as is the case with smoking.
Products such as cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, dry and wet tobacco, and tobacco plant leaves contain nicotine.
Electronic cigarettes (also called vapes) do not contain dried tobacco leaves, but may still contain nicotine.
What It Is?
Nicotine is a plant alkaloid, which means it is a naturally occurring chemical that contains nitrogen. It is also a highly addictive stimulant. Nicotine is best known for its use in cigarettes and tobacco products, but it has other uses.
Although nicotine is mainly found in tobacco plants, it is also found in tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, and green peppers. And although they are all in the nightshade family, the amount of nicotine in these other plants is much lower than in tobacco.
How Does It Work?
Certain proteins in our bodies are called receptors. These receptors only receive specific neurotransmitters or chemicals. The receptors that nicotine binds to are called nicotinic-cholinergic receptors. Nicotine is an agonist, which means that when it binds to receptors, it causes a biological response.
Nicotinic-cholinergic receptors are found in many places in the body, including the brain, neuromuscular junctions (area of chemical communication between nerves and muscles), the interior of the adrenal glands, and ganglia (groups of neurons).
Nicotine's excitability comes from the fact that when it binds to receptors, neurotransmitters (messaging chemicals) such as dopamine, acetylcholine, beta-endorphin, norepinephrine, serotonin, and ACTH are released in the body.
Some of these neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, beta-endorphin, and serotonin, regulate pleasure, mood, emotion, and pain relief. For example, the release of dopamine is what makes people feel good after smoking a cigarette.
Other neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine control physiological responses such as heart contraction and muscle movement. This is why a person's heart rate may increase rapidly, arteries may constrict, or blood pressure may increase immediately after consuming nicotine.
How is nicotine used?
Tobacco containing nicotine is often smoked in a cigarette. It is also smoked in cigars and pipes. There are many forms of smokeless tobacco, including chewing tobacco, wet tobacco, and dry tobacco. Smokeless tobacco products are not marketed in Australia.
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