Effects of Smoking on Brain Similar to those of Heroin

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Effects of Smoking on Brain Similar to those of Heroin

That cigarette smoking affects lungs is a common fact. However, what smokers don’t know is that smoking cigarettes triggers the release of addictive “feel-good” brain chemicals just like those triggered while abusing heroin and morphine.

A research was conducted to understand why smokers have such a tough time quitting despite being aware of all the health dangers. This is the first human study to show that smoking cigarettes stimulates the brain’s production of chemicals called Opioids. The chemical opioid is known to play a role in soothing pain, increasing positive emotions, and creating a sense of reward, which is similar to the chemical flow triggered by both morphine and heroin. That is why, smokers feels relaxed and emotionally strong after smoking.

This study also confirms the previous findings of animal studies that smoking cigarettes affects the flow of another feel-good brain chemical called dopamine. Further investigations were done to find the interaction between the two chemicals in the brains of smokers and non-smokers. It was found that the smokers have an altered opioid flow all the time when compared with non-smokers. Smoking a cigarette further alters the flow by 20 to 30% in regions of the brain important to emotions and craving.

The team of researchers spent several years testing a way of using PET imaging (positive emission tomography) to study the opioid system in the brain and showed opioid receptor activity in the brain. Positive emission tomography (PET) is commonly used to assess the functioning of brain and heart. It can provide physiological, anatomical and biochemical data (required for tissue functioning), which is not possible with MRI and CT, scans.

To conduct this new study, the researchers created a system that allows the patient to smoke cigarettes while lying in the PET scanner having his or her brain scanned. 6 healthy men who smoked one pack per day were involved in the study. All of them were restricted from smoking cigarettes for at least 10 hours before the study began. During their brain scans, each participant first smoked a cigarette devoid of nicotine, and later smoked a regular cigarette.

During the study, the participants were asked to rate their feelings at various times, including before and after smoking cigarettes. Significant difference in the flow of opioids were seen when the smoker smoked low-nicotine versus high-nicotine cigarettes especially the area involving emotion and emotion-memory processing. However, other brain regions were 20% to 30% less active. Feeling were reported to be more relaxed, less alert, less nervous and having fewer craving matched with the brain scans.

The study proves that smoking cigarette affects the brain just like heroin or morphine and that cigarette addiction comes from the feel-good brain chemical.

Adverse effects of smoking:
It causes problems-related to respiration (like COPD- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), increases lung cancer risk, increases metabolic rate, raises blood pressure, changes muscle tension and affects the brain area dealing with emotions, alertness and emotion-memory.

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