What is Nicotine and How Does it Affect You When You Smoke Cigarettes?

A brief history of Nicotine and Tobacco usage
Nicotine gets its name from the tobacco plant (Nicotiana tabacum), which was named after the French Ambassador to Portugal: Jean Nicot de Villemain. He sent tobacco and its seeds from Brazil to Paris in 1560 promoting their medicinal use.
The tobacco plant is part of the nightshade (aka Solanaceae) family of plants. Some of these also contain nicotine, such as tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, chilli peppers, and aubergines. Although these plants contain smaller quantities of nicotine than you’ll find in the tobacco plant.
Tobacco was first introduced to Europe in 1559 by Columbus from America, where native Americans used tobacco for ceremonial and medicinal purposes. This dates back as far as 1400-1000 BC. By the late 17 century tobacco was widely used for smoking as well as an insecticide.
In 1828, nicotine was isolated from the tobacco plant by German scientists: Wilhelm Heinrich Posselt and Karl Ludwig Reimann who considered it a poison, so it was very effective as an insecticide until cheaper alternatives that were less harmful to mammals became more popular in the 1980s.
What is Nicotine?
Nicotine itself is an oily, pale yellow substance that turns brown when exposed to air. It is a natural occurring chemical made by several types of plants including the tobacco plant. It is made in the roots and accumulates in the leaves of the tobacco plant.
Nicotine makes up 0.6 to 3% of the dry weight of tobacco. Each cigarette contains around 10 milligrams of nicotine. The smoker only inhales some of the smoke into the lungs, so inhales around 1 to 2 milligrams of nicotine per cigarette.
How does nicotine affect you when you smoke cigarettes?
For each puff on a cigarette, nicotine is absorbed into the bloodstream, in 7 seconds, it reaches the brain. Nicotine can increase the level of dopamine in the brain which makes you “feel good” when you smoke.
It’s the same effect that cocaine and heroin users get but to a much lesser extent. Although nicotine doesn’t impair your judgment like these drugs do.
Each puff on a cigarette can increase the feel-good factor and people keep smoking to maintain this high because nicotine doesn’t last for very long in the body. This explains the addictive factor of smoking cigarettes. However, nicotine itself only lasts for 48 hours in the body after you’ve had your last cigarette which doesn’t explain why people still get cravings to smoke long after nicotine has left the body.
Nicotine on its own doesn’t contribute so much to smoking-related illnesses which are mainly caused by the tar and carbon monoxide that comes from smoking cigarettes. It can cause high blood pressure which means your heart has to work harder, and can increase your metabolic rate but only very slightly.
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