Nicotine is a chemical found in tobacco leaves that keeps you coming back for more. Did you know that nicotine is a natural ingredient? In fact, it acts as a natural plant insecticide inside the tobacco leaves. Many people who utilize organic gardening will use nicotine products to keep the bugs away.
It is also the primary alkaloid in tobacco and accounts for roughly 95% of all the alkaloid in the leaf. This alkaloid characteristic is what makes for rapid absorption through the cell membranes in your body.
This drug is extracted when the tobacco leaves are burned in cigarettes, pipes or cigars. It is then carried on the particulate matter in the smoke emission into the lungs. Once it is inhaled into the lungs, it is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.
It can be said that nicotine and the brain don't mix. But the sad truth is, they mix all too well. This dangerous ingredient increases the release of certain chemicals in the brain, called neurotransmitters.
One neurotransmitter is dopamine, which affects your behavior and mood. As nicotine helps the release of dopamine, the smoker's mood elevates, thus delivering that sense of satisfaction or high. You could say it is a mood-altering drug, which explains why it is so addictive. This powerful chemical has a high binding attraction to brain tissue. Interestingly, the capacity to add more binding sites is higher in smokers than nonsmokers. There are simply more receptors in the smoker's brain designed to bring in more of the drug.
The total nicotine content of tobacco is about 10.2 mg. Only about 1-1.5 mg of it is absorbed during smoking. But the alkaloid nature of the drug and the large surface area found in the lungs, make for rapid absorption. In fact, high levels are sent to the brain within 10-20 seconds of the first puff. This delivery is faster than intravenous (IV) administration and produces a rapid behavioral conditioning or reinforcement.
In essence, the smoker is able to manipulate or control the level of drug in their brain. It acts a lot like opium or cocaine, where the user adjusts the dosage to meet the craving.
Smokers are also able to control the related side effects - again, like a controlled substance. The rapid delivery to the nervous system prevents the smoker from developing any sort of tolerance mechanism. This further, reinforces the behavior.
Chemical levels found in the bloodstream depend largely on the smoker. They control the dosage on a puff-by-puff basis. Quantity depends on puff volume, depth of inspiration, puffing rate and mix of room air. All these are variables the smoker can change, depending on their need to satisfy the addiction. This is why switching to light cigarettes or lower-yield cigarettes doesn't work. The user simply changes the variables to ramp up the dosage.
Physiologically, why is it hard to beat? Well, the simple answer is because there isn't anything else quite like it. Nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) often fail because of the slow and gradual dosing of the needed drug. The smoker starts the therapy expecting satisfaction, but has to wait up to 30 minutes to feed the need with NRTs. Subsequently, they give up on the approach and return to smoking.