Does Nicotine Kill Brain Cells?

The negative effects of smoking are very well-known at this point. From cardiovascular issues to the various other small, yet still harmful effects that affect the rest of the body.

For the longest time, much of the research and attention has been focused on the toxic effects of tobacco, especially how it affects the breathing system of the body, and how that leads to other health complications later on.

With the first breakthroughs in research coming from Europe in the 1940s, the evidence against tobacco and smoking started to mount, with the proof becoming impossible to deny by the time we reached the 1960s.

However, for just as long, we have also been aware of the dangerous effects of nicotine which can also have pretty negative consequences.

As time has gone on, and our research has turned more to nicotine, and the reasons why it is so addictive, we have started to also uncover just how nicotine works., and where it is most dangerous and harmful to us.

Those of us who have watched anti-smoking public service videos, or been on an anti-smoking awareness course, may be aware of some of the effects that nicotine has on the human body.

Increased blood pressure weakening arterial walls, and burning sensation in your throat and mouth, are all well-documented negative effects of this other major chemical component of smoking.

However, by far one of the most damaging things that nicotine does its work on is the human brain.

In this article, we are going to discuss some of the effects that nicotine has on the human brain, as well as what makes it such an addictive chemical that is so hard for many people to get rid of it from their bodies.

Effects of Smoking On The Brain

What is very interesting about the effects of smoking on the brain, is that it is often much easier to understand how much smoking, and by extension nicotine, when a person starts to experience withdrawal symptoms.

Very often, when someone has decided to quit smoking, along with many other withdrawal symptoms, such as a massive increase in appetite and the tightness in your chest, has a severe effect on your brain’s capacity to function.

For example:

  • You may find that you have difficulty concentrating as a withdrawal symptom.
  • You are also going to find it more difficult to remember things, as well as have difficulty forming new memories.
  • Likewise, you will also find that you are much easier to irritate, as well as quick to anger, as you go through nicotine withdrawal.
  • Combining all of these factors with an increase in stress levels, you’ll see that every other mental activity’s issues are exacerbated. 

Why Smoking Is So Addictive

All these behavioral changes beg the question of what exactly nicotine does to the body to cause such a drastic change. Well, the reason for this is because of how nicotine reacts in the brain.

When a person smokes, the nicotine in a cigarette will cause the neurotransmitters in your brain to release a huge amount of dopamine and other endorphins, which are responsible for regulating pleasure in the body, causing you to experience a massive wave of it all at once.

However, as you smoke more your brain also starts to develop a resistance to nicotine’s effects, meaning that you have to smoke even more to get the same fix.

At the same time, your brain begins to rely on the dopamine fix you get from absorbing nicotine.

These two factors are what cause the increased addiction, as well as what causes the massive change and withdrawal when you eventually decide to quit.

Effects Of Nicotine On Your Brain Cells

Because the brain is such a complex organ of the human body, it is quite difficult to distinguish what exactly exposure to nicotine does to the brain, at least whilst a person is still smoking.

For this, scientists and researchers have had to turn to studies of members of the public to try and measure its effects on the brain.

Hampering Brain Development

One of the studies that have been carried out on the effects of nicotine on the human brain is how it hinders the growth and development of some of the higher functions that brains develop over time.

This is especially the case for adolescents and teenagers, who are still going through the final stages of developing executive functions and attention spans.

This was found to be the case in a study in 2012, where the researchers tested to see if teenagers who were smokers would develop any higher functioning developmental disorders later on in life.

What they did find was that adolescents that smoked were more likely to eventually suffer from issues with attention deficits and develop psychiatric disorders.

This isn’t too surprising when you consider the age of the participants.

Considering that, as we just mentioned, a teenager’s brain is still developing, introducing a new chemical to that developing system can have radical effects later down the road.

It is why we have age limits on when alcohol is legal to consume, and why virtually almost all types of drugs are discouraged until later adulthood at least, as well as for the obvious legal reasons.

Reduced Plasticity & Growth

Not only that, but the effects of stunting brain development don’t stop at adolescence it seems.

When researchers tested giving nicotine to rats over 6 weeks, they found that the rat’s brains suffered a massive cut in the growth of brain matter responsible for memory formation, around 50%, as well as an increased death of other brain cells.

Final Thoughts

In short, nicotine does not just kill brain cells but also stunts the formation of new ones to replace them.

If there was any reason to quit smoking, keeping a hold of those precious memories has to be one of them!

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