Tobacco and Nicotine

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Tobacco is one of the most powerful stimulant plants known, and nicotine — its active principle — is one of the most toxic of all drugs. An average cigar contains enough nicotine to kill several people.

When tobacco is smoked, most of the nicotine is destroyed by the heat of burning. (To kill people with a cigar, you'd have to soak the cigar in water till it turned dark, then make people drink the liquid.) Nicotine is so strong and dangerous that the body very quickly develops tolerance to it to protect itself. If a person begins smoking regularly, tolerance to the poisonous effects of nicotine develops in a matter of hours (as compared to days or weeks for heroin and months for alcohol).

In the form of cigarettes, tobacco is the most addictive drug known. It is harder to break the habit of smoking cigarettes than it is to stop using heroin or alcohol. Moreover, many people learn to use alcohol and heroin in nonaddictive ways, whereas very few cigarette smokers can avoid becoming addicts. Occasionally, you will meet someone who smokes two or three cigarettes a day or even two or three a week, but such people are rare. Interestingly

enough, these occasional users get high from smoking and like the effect, while most addicted smokers do not experience major changes in consciousness.

Smoke from cigarettes inhaled deeply delivers concentrated nicotine to vital brain centers within a few seconds — faster than heroin reaches the brain when it is injected into a vein in the arm. This fact probably explains why tobacco in the form of cigarettes is so addictive.

Treatment of tobacco addiction is very difficult. Doctors frequently prescribe substitute forms of nicotine, such as chewing gum and skin patches, to help addicts through the physical withdrawal, but these methods often fail to curb psychological cravings for cigarettes.

Doctors know also that regular cigarette smoking is a leading cause of serious disease of the lungs, heart, and blood vessels. This does not mean that everyone who smokes will necessarily get lung cancer. Some people smoke heavily all their lives and show no ill effects, probably because they have healthy lungs and strong constitutions to begin with. Others are not so lucky.

Pipes and cigars are less hazardous than cigarettes because smoke from them is harsher, discouraging deep inhalation. Many smokers of pipes and cigars do not inhale at all and so completely avoid the risk of lung disease. In addition, since they don't deliver rapid pulses of nicotine to their brains, they are less likely than cigarette smokers to become addicted to tobacco so strongly or so fast. Pipes and cigars are not without risk, however. They still put nicotine into the body, affecting the heart and circulation, and also increase the risk of cancer of the lips, mouth, and throat.

Another health hazard of tobacco is secondhand smoke. If you live or work with smokers you can inhale the equivalent of smoking one half to one pack of cigarettes a day, raising your risks of tobacco-associated diseases. (The smoke coming off the lighted end of a cigarette actually contains more toxins than smoke inhaled through the other end, which has been filtered through a mat of tobacco.

Some tobacco users take the drug without burning it. Tobacco chewers place wads of it in the mouth, letting the nicotine diffuse into their systems through blood vessels in the tongue and cheeks. Others use snuff (finely powdered tobacco) by inhaling it or putting pinches of it in the mouth. Many Amazonian Indians cook tobacco and water to form a paste that they rub on their gums.

All of these preparations give strong stimulation in the form of high doses of nicotine — higher than cigarettes, pipes, and cigars,

Introducing an old way to enjoy tobacco.

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Here is the way one large tobacco company recommends its plain and flavored snuffs. There is no mention that tobacco in this form is both less addicting and more stimulating. The main selling point is that you can use it undetected and in places where smoking is not permitted.

because burning destroys so much of the nicotine in tobacco. Nevertheless, chewing tobacco or taking snuff is less addicting than smoking because it puts nicotine into the blood and brain much less directly.

Most people who put tobacco into the mouth or nose for the first time dislike it. It burns, tastes terrible, causes intense salivation and sneezing, and often produces rapid dizziness and nausea. With repeated trials, however, users grow tolerant to the worst effects and come to like the sensations in the mouth and nose. Tobacco companies now sell snuff as "smokeless tobacco," some of it with mint and fruit flavoring to make it more acceptable to novices. They promote it as a new and pleasant way to use the drug even in nonsmoking areas. Smokeless tobaccos have recently become popular among teen-agers, probably because it is easier to use the drug without detection. An unquestionable plus for snuff

The female and male ciga- an<^ chewing tobacco is that they do not pollute the air with rette addicts, as depicted by smoke and expose nonusers to nicotine and other irritants, two of the major tobacco Despite growing awareness of its toxicity and addictiveness, companies.

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Singan! Cfi'P'd Ma<. Deipimiieú tretl« SmuMMj Is Dangerous 10 Your Health tobacco remains a fully accepted drug in our society. Its use is even encouraged by extensive advertising that makes smokers seem mature and sexually appealing. Our government actively supports the tobacco industry with public funds. Certainly, this is an example of how our division of drugs into good and evil is not at all rational.

New World Indians used tobacco in religious and magical rituals thousands of years ago, and some South American Indians still use strong tobacco as a consciousness-altering drug today. On special occasions they build giant cigars that the men take turns inhaling. They quickly become very intoxicated. Because they do not use tobacco except on special occasions, they have no tolerance to its effects and so get very high. In North America today, all Indian medicine men and women use tobacco ceremonially; they believe tobacco smoke carries their prayers to the spirit world. When the Spanish discovered America, they observed Indians using tobacco and began using it themselves.

In the 1500s, Europeans also used tobacco to alter consciousness. It was a scarce and precious substance from the New World, and people smoked it occasionally, inhaling as deeply as they could and holding the smoke in their lungs to maximize the effect. Early tobacco was so harsh that people could not do this often enough to develop rapid tolerance and addiction. Still, authorities at the time were very upset at what they considered to be a new form of evil and tried their best to prohibit tobacco use. In many countries the penalty for people caught possessing tobacco was death.

Needless to say, these measures did not work, as criminal penalties for drug use never do. More and more people began smoking more and more regularly. As tobacco became increasingly common, it lost its special significance, and its users, instead of getting high on it once in a while, became addicts who needed it iust to feel normal. Governments then began to see in tobacco a new source of revenue, which they depend on to this day. The development of milder tobaccos that could be inhaled deeply and often gave birth to cigarette addiction as we know it today and with it the rise of the modern tobacco industry. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, authorities encouraged the use of tobacco in the belief that it promoted concentration and relaxation. In movies of the 1930s and 1940s, all the characters smoke continually. During World War II cigarettes were standard issue in American soldiers' rations, and as late as the 1950s, doctors appeared in cigarette ads promoting particular brands as "soothing to the throat."

Native American Psychotropic Drugs
The Great Spirit of Native American religion, pictured as a cosmic pipe smoker. (Fitz Hu>;h Ludlow Memorial Library)

From Chocolate to Morphine 54

Dried Chinese ephedra. (Dody Fúgate)

At the moment, our society's views on tobacco use are changing. Smoking is becoming unfashionable, and nonsmokers are demanding smoke-free environments. It will be interesting to see what changes occur in the patterns of addictive behavior around tobacco.

A recent British government study of adolescents shows that a youngster who smokes more than one cigarette has only a 15 percent chance of remaining a nonsmoker. If you are thinking about experimenting with tobacco, especially in the form of cigarettes, consider the fact that most experimenters fall into this trap and become addicts before they know it.

Four Exotic Stimulant Plants

Betel. Betel nut is the seed of a tropical palm tree with a spicy taste. In Asia, millions of people chew it daily, combining it with a pinch of lime (the alkaline mineral, not the fruit) and wrapping it in a fresh leaf of another plant called the betel pepper. This combination produces a great deal of red juice, which betel chew-ers spit out. The juice stains their teeth black over time. Betel nut contains a drug called arecoline, a stimulant comparable to caffeine. Betel chewing is a habit that is similar to the habits of chewing gum and drinking coffee or cola drinks in industrialized societies.

Qat (khat, chat, miraa). Qat is a popular stimulant in a wide area of East Africa and the Middle East. It is a shrubby tree, whose fresh leaves and young twigs are eaten for their stimulating effect. The leaves lose their power when they dry out. Qat contains many active chemicals, some of which resemble amphetamines in their structure. Unlike coca, the leaves of qat, which have a bitter, astringent taste, are usually swallowed. Truck drivers in Kenya are big users of this plant.

Yohimbe. Yohimbe, the bark of an African tree with a bitter, spicy taste, contains a drug called yohimbine that is used in a few prescription medicines to treat sexual impotence in men. Yohimbe bark is available at some herb stores and can be brewed into a stimulating tea. It is supposed to be an aphrodisiac, and some users say it causes tingling feelings along the spine.

Ephedra. Ephedras are leafless bushes that grow* in deserts throughout the world. They are related to pine trees and bear tiny cones. Several species contain the drug ephedrine, a stimulant and a remedy for asthma. American ephedra, found throughout the western United States, is known as Mormon tea because early

55 Stimulants

Harvesting betel nuts.

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Mormon settlers used it instead of caffeine beverages, which arc ^ Insti'tute of Technology)

prohibited by their religion. Herb stores sell both American ephedra and the stronger Chinese type. The dry stems are boiled with water to make a pleasant-tasting tea that can be very stimulating. Chinese ephedra and ephedrine are common ingredients of herbal uppers sold in health food stores.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drugs many cuiii remedies ami uiiici uvci-tiic-cuuntci picparations contain caffeine to offset the drowsiness caused by antihistamines.* Another nonprescription stimulant in these products is the synthetic drug phenylpropanolamine. Recently it has appeared in over-the-counter diet pills with names such as Dexatrim. These sound like brand names of amphetamines. Like all stimulants, they may decrease appetite temporarily, but if used regularly for a long time, they make people dependent more often than thin.

Some Rules for Using Stimulants Safely

Because stimulants are so common, most people will use one or another at some time. If you become involved with stimulants, here are some rules that will help you stay in a good relationship with them.

1. Limit your frequency of use. All trouble with stimulants arises from using them too often. If you like the feeling a stimulant gives, it is all too easy to let your frequency of use creep up. Set

"See pa^es 146-47 for a description of the cffccts of antihistamines.

ite to Morphine 56

limits! For example, never take a stimulant two days in a row.

2. Use stimulants purposefully. Taking these drugs just to feel good will not help you limit your use. If you are going to take a stimulant, you should use the stimulation for something — a physical or mental task, for instance. One side benefit of such purposeful use is that the satisfaction of accomplishment will offset the letdown when the drug wears off.

3. Do not take stimulants to help you perform ordinary functions. You should be able to get up in the morning, move your bowels, and make it through the afternoon without drugs. If you cannot, you should change your patterns of diet, sleep, and exercise. Relying on stimulants for everyday activity leads to too-frequent use and dependence.

4. Take stimulants by mouth. Putting these drugs more directly into the bloodstream (as by snorting, smoking, or shooting) accentuates the letdown following the up and encourages frequent administration. It also increases the harmful effects on the body.

5. Take dilute forms of stimulants rather than concentrated ones. The more dilute the preparation of a stimulant, the easier it is for the body to adjust to it, and the more gentle the letdown at the end. Preparations of plants such as coffee and tea are naturally more dilute than refined or synthetic drugs, and are easier to stay in good relationships with.

6. Maintain good habits of nutrition, rest, and exercise. Remember that stimulants force your body to give up its stores of chemical energy. Whenever you use stimulants, especially if you take them with any regularity, it is important to let your body recharge itself. The healthier you are, the less you will feel you need outside stimulation.

7. Do not combine stimulants with depressants or other drugs. Combinations of drugs always complicate matters. Some people can't sleep at night because they take too many stimulants during the day. So they take depressants at night. Then they can't get moving in the morning and have to take more stimulants. This pattern of drug-taking quickly leads to trouble.

8. Avoid look-alike drugs. They have nothing to recommend them.

It should not be difficult to use stimulants wisely and stay in good relationships with them. They are not answers to the ups and downs of life, and taking them to try to avoid the downs only leads to problems. Nor do they give anything for nothing. Users pay later for any energy and good feeling stimulants give them. If you remain aware of what stimulants are and how they work, you will he able to avoid the trap of becoming dependent on them.

Suggested Reading

Some good information on the caffeine-containing plants will be found in Robert S. de Ropp's Drugs and the Mind (New York: Grove Press, 1960), an older book that is still one of the best and most readable references on psychoactive drugs. Coffee and tea are the subjects of The Book of Coffee and Tea by Meri Shardin (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1975). A classic book on the colorful history of coffee and human beings is Coffee: The Epic of a Commodity by Heinrich Eduard Jacob (New York: Viking, 1935). The most famous work on tea is Kakuzo Okakura's The Book of Tea (New York: Dover, 1964), first published in 1906. It is about much more than tea, being an elegant treatise on Japanese culture and philosophy written to help dispel Western misconceptions about Japan. A recent work on the same subject is Tea: The Eyelids of Bodhidharma by Eelco Hesse (Berkeley, California: And/Or Press, 1982). An interesting book on the origins and development of Coca-Cola is The Big Drink: The Story of Coca-Cola by E. J. Kahn, Jr. (New York: Random House, 1960). Chocolate devotees may be interested in a recently published book called Chocolate: The Consuming Passion by Sandra Boynton (New York: Workman, 1982), a profile and ardent defense of that substance by a self-proclaimed chocoholic. See also Jonathan Ott's The Cacahuatl Eater: Ruminations of an Unabashed Chocolate Addict (Vashon, Washington: Natural Products Company, 1985).

W. Golden Mortimer's History of Coca: Divine Plant of the Incas (Berkeley, California: And/Or Press, 1974) was first published in 1901. It is a long description of Incan.civilization, Peru, and coca and contains valuable information. A good excerpt from it is combined with writings of other authors in The Coca Leaf and Cocaine Papers, edited by George Andrews and David Solomon (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975). Mama Coca by Antonil (London: Hassle Free Press, 1978) is a modern account of use of the leaf by Indians in Colombia that discusses the political aspects of coca. Joseph Kennedy's Coca Exotica (Rutherford, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1985) is an excellent, illustrated history of coca use.

Richard Ashley's Cocaine: Its History, Uses, and Effects (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1975) is a report on cocaine in Europe and America, from the time of its isolation from coca leaf in the late

From Chocolate to Morphine 58

Argentinians drink maté — their national caffeine-containing drink — from decorated gourds. Maté means "gourd" in Spanish. (Woodward A. Wickham)

1800s to the present. A more technical book and general reference on the subject is Cocaine: A Drug and Its Social Evolution by Lester Grinspoon and fames B. Bakalar (New York: Basic Books, 1976). Cocaine Changes: The Experience of Using and Quitting (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991) is a thoughtful and thorough analysis of the subject based on extensive interviews. The Seven Per Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer (New York: Dutton, 1974) is a novel that concerns Sherlock Holmes's cocaine habit. It was made into a popular movie. The problems and perils of freebasing cocaine are brilliantly depicted by comedian Richard Pryor in his movie Pichard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip. Pryor's real-life habit of freebasing cocaine resulted in a near-fatal acci-dcnt.

Despite widespread use, amphetamines have attracted less attention from writers than cocaine. One of the few books on the subject is The Speed Culture: Amphetamine Use and Abuse in America by Lester Grinspoon and Peter Hedblom (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1975). It is technical in spots and not light reading. Arnold J. Mandell's The Nightmare Season (New York: Random House, 1976) is a doctor's account of problems of professional football players, in which amphetamines figure prominently. The Tranquilizing of America: Pill Popping and the American Way of Life by Richard Hughes and Robert Brewin (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979) discusses medical uses of amphetamines, especially to control hyperactive children.

The lack of good books about tobacco is even more striking, considering that drug's popularity. The Book of Pipes and Tobacco by Carl Ehwa, Jr. (New York: Random House, 1974), gives general information. To Smoke or Not to Smoke by Luther L. Terry and Daniel Horn (New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1969) looks at reasons why people start smoking and also gives a history of tobacco. John Barth's novel The Sot-Weed Factor (New York: Bantam Books, 1969) revolves around tobacco. Probably the best account of cigarette addiction occurs in a comic novel by Italo Svevo, Further Confessions of Zeno (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969). The author describes the endless tricks and self-deceptions used by a hooked smoker, as well as the low probability of cure.

The best book available on qat is John G. Kennedy's The Flower of Paradise: The Institutionalized Use of the Drug Qat in North Yemen (Dordrecht, Netherlands: D. Reidcl Publishing Company, 1987; distributed in the U.S. by Kluwer Academic Publishers, Norwell, Massachusetts).

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Responses

  • Florian
    Is smokeless tobacco is phycoactive?
    1 year ago
  • semrawit
    Is nicotine a psychoactive drug?
    1 year ago
  • kenzie taylor
    Is tobbaco a psychotroactive?
    9 months ago
  • luciana
    Is tobacca a psychoactive drg?
    7 months ago
  • semret
    What makes tobacco psychoactive?
    4 months ago
  • Oona
    What makes tobacco a drug?
    3 months ago

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