CAIRO: For a smoker, the plain view of the cigarette is always too tempting to pass. Heavy smokers, who think the idea of attempting to quit is simply ridiculous, have convinced themselves that their regular fix of nicotine and tobacco is actually good for them – it helps them concentrate, soothes them when they are stressed and induces a slight feeling of happiness.
But what have long been described as void and self-deceptive attempts to legitimize smoking could turn out to be scientific facts. According to a recent release by the Harvard Health Publications, the rogue substance has a wide range of effects on the brain, which may include some healing properties. Researchers are testing nicotine and related compounds as treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, attention deficiency/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other conditions.
The Harvard release argues that several studies carried over the years have suggested that nicotine has healing effects. Its infamous tie to cancer should be better associated with tobacco, studies say.
Most experts say nicotine itself does not cause cancer, reads the Harvard article, It’s addictive, which gets people hooked on cigarettes, but the prevailing view has been that it is other substances in tobacco smoke (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, tobacco-specific nitrosamine) that cause DNA damage and therefore cancer. Yet there are other studies that connect nicotine to cancer, either as a cause or an accelerator. Meanwhile some researchers are trying to discover if nicotine alone could be healing.
Investigators are seeing if the nicotine patch might have other uses besides helping smokers quit, reads the Harvard article. In 2004, one trial found that the patch improved cognitive performance in patients with schizophrenia. A 2003 study investigated the effectiveness of nicotine patch therapy in non-smoking patients diagnosed with depression. And a 2001 study reported promising results for treatment of Tourette’s disorder with a combination of the nicotine patch and the antipsychotic drug haloperidol (Haldol). It s needless to say that such findings are creating controversy in medical circles, whether on local or international levels. Experts have expressed a wide range of views, from completely nullifying the findings of such studies to accepting parts of the results. None of the so-called benefits of nicotine are true, says Dr. Ahmed Abdel Tawab, a pharmacy professor.
´´Nicotine can never be a treatment for any disease, despite it might have slight good sides. Nicotine is nothing but an addictive substance that has been proved to be poisonous and destructive, he adds. That doesn’t mean that we should never look at the good sides of nicotine, rather keep it in consideration to know how it affects the human body.
Nicotine is known to have all the effects of other addictive drugs on the body. The urge to smoke is a result of a reduction of the amount of nicotine within the body. The additive effect is also noticeable, whereby smokers gradually increase their regular intake because the body get used to the amount of nicotine and demands more to depend on, says Dr. Abdel Tawab.
But others acknowledge that nicotine could have healing effects, with reservations of course. “Acetyl-L-carnitine [a nerve signal transmitter and known to be crucial for attention, memory and learning in the brain] is a neurotransmitter and acts primary on the autonomic nervous system. In cases of Alzheimer s disease, which is characterized by amyloid degeneration of various structures in the brain, nicotine mimics the Acetyl-L-carnitine and raises the alertness of the brain, says Dr. Sherif Samir, professor of intensive care. Thus, it is always noticeable that smokers are rarely infected with Alzheimer s and are highly alert. That’s why scientists think nicotine prevents Alzheimer s as it lessens amyloid degeneration caused by weak acetyl colleen. Although nicotine might have a good side in the attention part, he adds, that doesn’t mean a total ignorance of its harmful consequences in causing vessel constraint, heart publication, nausea and dizziness.
“We can’t just treat a disease like Alzheimer s and have the patient infected with heart disease, through nicotine treatment, says Samir. The belief that smokers do not get infected with Alzheimer’s disease, he continues, is not because they have good production of acetyl colleen, but because smokers suffer heart diseases that may lead to death before reaching older ages, in which Alzheimer’s disease appears.
The same story happens in treating diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Dementia; nicotine may treat only the part of attention, through stimulation of Acetyl-L-carnitine receptor, but fails to stimulate the irreplaceable dopamine, which is responsible for euphoria and enjoyment.
Samir also agrees that while nicotine is not always considered carcinogenic, it may enhance the chances of growing carcinogenic tumors.
As for the presumed psychological effects of nicotine, Nour Aboulela, owner of Tabac Stop Centre, disagrees. The study says that there have been observations of altered state of mind associated with smoking. For someone who’s agitated, nicotine has a calming effect. For someone who isn’t, it heightens alertness, it explains.
Aboulela thinks that smokers are deceived by the calming effect of nicotine. “Smokers think that nicotine calms them down and let them feel relaxed. But after all, this is just a trick, she adds.
She explains that nicotine helps endocrine glands, which are responsible for excitement and relaxation, to produce more endocrine hormones. Gradually, the gland starts depending on nicotine to produce more endocrines. So the more the person smokes, more endocrines are produced and eventually the smoker feels calmer.
“It is about depending on nicotine to feel calmer or more relaxed. This is the question that poses itself: do you want to depend on nicotine to produce endocrines or just let endocrines get produced naturally by the brain? says Aboulela