Health benefits of nicotine rise as laws clamp down
March 3, 2015
by Gary Wood
Nicotine is getting a boost in both legal and community conversations largely due to the growing popularity of vaping products. Health benefits of nicotine is rarely a part of the legal conversation despite growing medical evidence. Laws are clamping down on vapers and vaping products almost daily around the world. When it comes to the new regulations and laws being passed nicotine?s benefits are not the focus, it is nicotine?s connection to one of the worst delivery methods; conventional cigarettes.
This confusion between nicotine and cigarettes is common among even the most senior of lawmakers. In Texas, Senator Juan ?Chuy? Hinojosa gave testimony that is common and stands as an example of the arguments used to ban vaping products. Watching his testimony, he clearly states nicotine is the addictive substance his proposed legislation is focused on restricting. When asked directly if vaping products should not have their own section of the law due to the vast difference between them and cigarettes, nicotine was the one substance he pointed to, never bringing to the conversation the truly dangerous tars and carcinogens that are linked to illness and death among those who smoke. His concern, admirably, is to protect people?s health and nicotine is the risk he believes he needs to protect people from.
Confusing other delivery methods of nicotine with the deadly delivery method we are all aware of, tobacco cigarettes, is understandable for those who do not invest the time to truly research the facts coming out regarding the benefits of nicotine. After the senator?s testimony the Texas Senate Committee on Health and Human Services voted unanimously for his proposed legislation (Texas Senate Bill 97) to pass out of committee. Nicotine?s connection with conventional tobacco products once again ruled the day. After all it sounds right to those who do not investigate beyond what is generally assumed to be accurate.
These assumptive reactions to the dangers of nicotine create a barrier for those that are hooked on conventional cigarettes. As they see laws passed due to the dangers of nicotine, and hear that vaping products are just the same as conventional cigarettes, the question may well be why switch to a different delivery system. Addiction to nicotine is assumed to be the reason people struggle to quit smoking.
However, according to Dr. Paul Newhouse, the director of Vanderbilt University?s Center for Cognitive Medicine, ?It seems very safe even in nonsmokers. In our studies we find it actually reduces blood pressure chronically. And there were no addiction or withdrawal problems, and nobody started smoking cigarettes. The risk of addiction to nicotine alone is virtually nil.?
If nicotine is not the addictive drug it is assumed to be on its own then why are people so addicted to conventional cigarettes?
Dr. Newhouse believes, ?nicotine by itself isn?t very addictive at all… [it] seems to require assistance from other substances found in tobacco to get people hooked.?
These types of possibilities may be what is driving many in the e-liquid manufacturing industry to switch from nicotine extracted from tobacco to other natural sources of nicotine or synthetic nicotine. (E-liquids are the delivery system vapers use to deliver flavor and, possibly, nicotine or vitamins.)
This could well explain why many who begin vaping e-liquids with nicotine actually reduce the levels to zero nicotine, allowing the vapor to only deliver the flavors. As the nicotine is delivered without burning tobacco the addictive nature fades due to the findings nicotine by itself is not addictive. For lawmakers and anti-smoking activists who want people to stop smoking it would be more understandable if they were promoting vaping products rather than campaigning to ban them or treat them just like conventional cigarettes and tobacco products. But unless a person is either afflicted with, or knows someone who is afflicted with one or more of the diseases nicotine is proving to help it is not likely they are studying the potential benefits.
The Michael J. Fox foundation, dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson?s disease (PD), is sponsoring the first human clinical trials testing nicotine as a possible treatment for PD. A connection was first uncovered back in 1966. At the time Dr. Harold Kahn was heading up the Dorn Study of Smoking and Mortality Among U.S. Veterans: Report on Eight and One-Half Years of Observation. Using records from over 293,000 veterans (1917 ? 1940) his research confirmed many of the connections between smokers and premature death from cancer, lung disease, and other areas that were coming to light during the late ?50s and early ?60s. But an unusual data point showed non-smokers afflicted with PD were three times MORE likely to die from the disease than smokers. It appeared, despite the terrible delivery system and its other risks, nicotine was working on helping those with PD.
The trials today are being conducted using delivery methods other than tobacco. Some PD patients are even vaping with low levels of nicotine to help control their symptoms. Nicotine?s ability to increase dopamine was discovered in 1979 by UCLA neurobiologist Marie-Françoise Chesselet. Psychology Today provides the following definition:
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain?s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them. Dopamine deficiency results in Parkinson?s Disease, and people with low dopamine activity may be more prone to addiction. The presence of a certain kind of dopamine receptor is also associated with sensation-seeking people, more commonly known as ?risk takers.?
Health benefits associated with nicotine, freed from delivery through conventional cigarettes, is not just a possible break through drug to help Parkinson victims. Research is showing additional benefits of nicotine to help people with Alzheimer?s disease, the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and 5th among those older than 65. Dr. Kelly Neff recently wrote, ?Nicotine, delivered either intravenously or subcutaneously, has been shown to improve cognitive tasks in people with Alzheimer?s disease, and even delay the onset of clinical dementia by reducing the rate of neurons lost in the brain.?
There is also growing research connecting nicotine with aiding Type-1 diabetes, high blood pressure, providing pain relief, treating depression, schizophrenia, Tourette?s syndrome, ADHD, chemotherapy patience, and more. If it were not for the unfortunate association with conventional cigarettes and burning tobacco nicotine could well be known as the next ?miracle drug? but sadly the connection is there and it is scary. Bans are happening due to the innocent victim, nicotine, being trapped for so many years inside burning tobacco. It will be some time before the real health benefits are fully known and embraced by the general public.
Lawmakers and regulators, unfortunately, are not investing the time to uncover these facts. Rather than merely insuring minors are restricted from buying vaping products and vaping e-liquids are manufactured safely they are supporting the notion nicotine is the bad substance in vaping. Dr. Neff writes, ?Bans on the public use of vaporized nicotine become especially problematic in light of the potentially profound benefits that nicotine may offer for many individuals who are suffering from debilitating mental and physical illnesses. Surely the public would want to embrace and support vaporized nicotine that does not harm bystanders but does help a citizen manage his Parkinson?s symptoms or treat her depression??
The public does want to help people overcome their illnesses and afflictions. The idea nicotine could actually help addicts because it is not addicting is something public health officials and political leaders are not telling the public. It is only through increased success in using nicotine for the benefit of those needing it?s qualities that awareness is growing.
As awareness grows a lot of time and money will have to be spent over turning reactionary, incompetent laws being enacted today. The day will come but nobody knows how many smokers will be lost before the public demands access to vaping products, and other delivery systems, that are safe to both the person using them and those living and working with vapers.
When you hear about restrictive regulations against vaping products being proposed in your area will you be the competent voice of reason? More on that next time…
Olfactory dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease: Positive effect of cigarette smoking
1.James D. Sharer1,
2.Fidias E. Leon-Sarmiento MD, PhD1,
3.James F. Morley MD, PhD2,3,
4.Daniel Weintraub MD4 and
5.Richard L. Doty PhD1,*
Article first published online: 27 DEC 2014
© 2014 International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society
Cover image for Vol. 29 Issue 14
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How to Cite Author Information Publication History
1.Funding agencies: This research project was supported by USAMRAA W81XWH-09-1-0467 and NIDCD 00161 (to R.L. Doty, principal investigator).
2.Relevant conflicts of interest/financial disclosures: Dr. Doty is president and major shareholder in Sensonics, International, the manufacturer of the commercial version of the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test.
3.Full financial disclosures and author roles may be found in the online version of this article.
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There is compelling evidence from over 60 epidemiological studies that smoking significantly reduces the risk of Parkinson’s disease (PD). In general, those who currently smoke cigarettes, as well as those with a past history of such smoking, have a reduced risk of PD compared to those who have never smoked. Recently it has been suggested that a cardinal nonmotor sensory symptom of PD, olfactory dysfunction, may be less severe in PD patients who smoke than in PD patients who do not, in contrast to the negative effect of smoking on olfaction described in the general population.
We evaluated University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT) scores from 323 PD patients and 323 controls closely matched individually on age, sex, and smoking history (never, past, or current).
Patients exhibited much lower UPSIT scores than did the controls (P?0.0001). The relative decline in dysfunction of the current PD smokers was less than that of the never- and past-PD smokers (respective Ps?=?0.0005 and 0.0019). Female PD patients outperformed their male counterparts by a larger margin than did the female controls (3.66 vs. 1.07 UPSIT points; respective Ps?0.0001 and 0.06). Age-related declines in UPSIT scores were generally present (P?0.0001). No association between the olfactory measure and smoking dose, as indexed by pack-years, was evident.
PD patients who currently smoke do not exhibit the smoking-related decline in olfaction observed in non-PD control subjects who currently smoke. The physiological basis of this phenomenon is yet to be defined. © 2014 International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society