How does nicotine affect dopamine?
Humans are programmed to seek dopamine-boosting activities to ensure physical health, happiness, and longevity/survival. Examples include having sex, eating, listening to music, hugging children/animals/your partner/friend, socializing, and exercising. These are natural/normal/healthy activities/behaviors that the normally functioning 'reward system is designed to re-perform.
Back at the peak of smoking, we didn't know how nicotine and other drugs affected the brain. Since then, we have learned a lot about the function of the brain, commonly known as the reward pathway.
In the brain, dopamine acts as a neurotransmitter - a chemical that is released by neurons (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve cells. The reward pathway plays an important role in the motivational component of reward motivation or reinforcement of behavior. Can you imagine the disruption to this natural, instinctive process caused by the introduction of a highly addictive drug that seems to alleviate the discomfort caused by the first dose and every subsequent dose?
In 2019, Professor Robert West, one of the world's leading scholars of nicotine addiction, went on record as saying that "nicotine causes the release of dopamine from the nerve cells that make up the brain's "reward system", including the nucleus accumbens - the nucleus accumbens. The brain is involved in learning to do things. The release of dopamine tells the brain to pay attention to the situation and what the smoker has just done - and to do the same thing the next time they are in the same situation. Thus, a link is made between the urge to smoke and the normal smoking situation". Importantly, Professor West went on to add, "it is vital that smokers do not have to feel any pleasure or enjoyment in doing so."
How does nicotine make you feel?
A smoker's first experience of nicotine is usually extremely unpleasant at worst, and somewhat unpleasant at best. To understand this, smokers have to ignore the feelings that their first cigarette evokes. The peer pressure and praise, the feeling of rebellion, the feeling of fitting in, and the feeling of appearing stylish, sophisticated, or macho. None of these are caused by nicotine entering the body; they are all related to the environment.
When tobacco smoke or vapor is inhaled, nicotine is absorbed through the mucous membranes lining the nose, mouth, and lungs, and through the bloodstream to the brain. When sniffed, inhaled (through a pouch), or chewed, it is absorbed through the membranes in the mouth and nose. It then travels through the body and reaches the brain through the bloodstream. It can also be absorbed through the skin.
When inhaled nicotine reaches the brain in about 7 seconds.2 When smoking an e-cigarette it takes about the same amount of time, about 8-20 seconds. When chewing tobacco, nicotine reaches the central nervous system in about 3-5 minutes.
Neuroscience still doesn't fully understand how nicotine affects the brain or how addiction works, but it's learning more all the time.
Is there a high?
Some smokers claim that feeling dizzy or light-headed after a period of non-smoking feels like a 'high' - but think about it - doesn't it? It's just dizziness, and you can get the same feeling by turning in place for ten seconds.
Does nicotine ease anxiety or make you feel depressed?
Some people claim that smoking helps with depression and anxiety, but if this is true, then surely smokers are less anxious and depressed than non-smokers. Yet studies show the opposite - they are more anxious and depressed than non-smokers. Sadly, there is no doubt that a large proportion of people who suffer from depression and anxiety are attracted to the false belief that nicotine can help them deal with their condition - it's all part of the brainwashing.
How does nicotine produce pleasure?
So the fact that most smokers remember the unpleasant effects of their first cigarette on their bodies alone refutes any notion that nicotine's initial entry into the body and brain causes 'pleasure'. Whatever the effect of nicotine on dopamine levels when it first enters the body - it is certainly not pleasant. Most people's first cigarette is so unpleasant and unproductive that it leads them to believe they will never become addicted. The reason why smokers develop a deep-seated belief that smoking is enjoyable is perfectly explained by Professor West.
Nicotine withdrawal is the result of the first cigarette smoked by a nicotine addict. The next cigarette temporarily "relieves" it. The brain subconsciously concludes, "Next time you feel nicotine withdrawal - do it again!". In other words, each time a smoker lights up a cigarette, the act of lighting up in response to experiencing nicotine withdrawal is reinforced, although the next cigarette will also cause nicotine withdrawal.
Whether smokers are in a happy, focused, sad, stressed, relaxed, bored or lonely situation, they simultaneously experience nicotine withdrawal and respond by lighting a cigarette, thus feeling immediately better than they did a moment ago, and forgetting the fact that once smoked a cigarette makes nicotine withdrawal permanent.
No wonder they think that cigarettes help them to be happy concentrate, cope with sadness and stress, relax, or cope with boredom or loneliness! It has nothing to do with real pleasure or real improvement in mood. Every time they light up a cigarette in one of these situations - the brain subconsciously concludes, "Next time this happens - do it again!".
Non-smokers do not have to deal with any mental and physical deterioration caused by nicotine addiction. They do not suffer from nicotine poisoning, nicotine withdrawal, or the abnormal/unnatural effects of nicotine on dopamine and its behavior.
Smoking damages your heart and blood circulation, increasing the risk of diseases such as coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease (damaged blood vessels), and cerebrovascular disease (damaged arteries that supply blood to the brain).
Once in the brain, it mimics acetylcholine, a natural neurotransmitter that is found naturally in the brain and activates specific types of acetylcholine receptors.
Acetylcholine is known to help maintain healthy breathing, heart function, muscle movement, and cognitive functions, such as memory.
Nicotine increases adrenaline, which in turn increases blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate.