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Benefits of Quitting Smoking
Nicotine Replacement Therapy

About Nicotine

      When a person inhales cigarette smoke, cigarette's nicotine is rapidly absorbed into the blood and starts affecting the brain within 7 seconds. In the brain, nicotine activates the same reward system as do other drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamines, although to a lesser degree. Nicotine's action on this reward system is believed to be responsible for drug-induced feelings of pleasure and, over time, nicotine addiction. Nicotine also has the effect of increasing alertness and enhancing mental performance. In the cardiovascular system, nicotine increases heart rate and blood pressure and restricts blood flow to the heart muscle. The drug stimulates the release of the hormone epinephrine, which further stimulates the nervous system and is responsible for part of the "kick" from nicotine. It also promotes the release of the hormone beta-endorphin, which inhibits pain.

People addicted to nicotine experience nicotine withdrawal when they stop smoking. This withdrawal involves symptoms such as anger, anxiety, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, increased appetite and cravings for nicotine. Most of these symptoms subside within 3 to 4 weeks, except for the craving and hunger, which may persist for months. Nicotine gum and nicotine patches can help reduce these effects.

Nicotine is an alkaloid poison and is found in nature only in tobacco. It acts as a very powerful stimulant to the brain and central nervous system and is extremely addictive. When a smoker inhales cigarette smoke:

- they receive an immediate concentrated dose of nicotine in the bloodstream
- the inhaled nicotine hits the brain within 6 seconds (this is twice as fast as mainlining heroin)
- the nicotine raises blood pressure
- the nicotine increases heart rate by as many as 33 beats a minute
- the nicotine may also have a depressant effect
- the first daily dose of nicotine stimulates the large bowel and causes a reduction in appetite
- a sixty milligrams dose of nicotine will paralyze breathing and kill the average adult human being.

Cigarette nicotine doesn't kill smokers immediately because it is taken in very small doses. These doses of nicotine are metabolized and excreted by the body. Carbon monoxide is also present in cigarette smoke. Carbon monoxide in the smoke of cigarettes replaces the oxygen in red blood cells, forming a chemical called carboxyhemoglobin (COHb). The COHb takes away the extra oxygen the heart needs to work properly while nicotine makes the heart work harder. Another deleterious effect of carbon monoxide is that it promotes cholesterol deposits in arteries.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer excellent information about smoking, tobacco use and smoking cessation resources. Quitnet is an excellent online aid for all aspects of quitting smoking.

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