Just how bad is nicotine for your health?
Time to say goodbye to the ciggies?
Written by
Dan Cable
Medically reviewed by
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Last updated
March 20, 2024
min read
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This is a pretty timely topic: right now, Sydney is cracking down on vaping (again?) and nicotine is blowing up in Silicon Valley circles.

The TGA worked with NSW police to conduct 60 raids over just 4 days at the start of February 2024, seizing 30,000 nicotine e-cigarettes, 118,000 illegal cigarettes and a large quantity of loose-leaf tobacco and nicotine pouches [1].

Reason being? Unless you have a valid medical prescription, it's illegal for NSW retailers to sell e-cigarettes or e-liquids containing nicotine. A kick in the gut for those who enjoy a weekend session or bumming off their mate at the pub... but hopefully a win for the health of Sydneysiders.

At the same time, we're witnessing the re-emergence of nicotine gum, this time as a nootropic in tech/finance circles in the US [2].

The co-founder of Soylent (the much-hyped meal replacement gruel) is now working on Lucy, a nicotine gum positioned as a performance enhancer [3].

How bad is smoking for your health?

Well, it's not good. Let's be clear: smoking is bad for your health and so is vaping. Vapes often contain 200+ chemicals, including formaldehyde, arsenic, mercury, heavy metals, solvents, and volatile organic compounds — all pretty nasty stuff.

Vapes are highly concentrated sources of nicotine with few barriers to frequent consumption, amplifying the risk of addiction and overall toxicity from excess nicotine [4]. However, small doses of pure nicotine — dissociated from smoking/vaping — confers improvements to attention, memory, and psychomotor speed.

The mechanism of action is interesting

  • Nicotine stimulates the release of beta-endorphin, a hormone that dulls pain [5].
  • A combination of these mechanisms results in a biphasic effect that feels stimulating at first and then calming or tension-reducing [6]; perhaps somewhat like alcohol.
  • Nicotine acts as a stimulant on the adrenals (norepinephrine and epinephrine) and on dopamine receptors — perhaps one of the key reasons for its addictive properties — and is being explored as a potential treatment for Parkinson's [7].
  • Nicotine activates acetylcholine receptors — a critical neurotransmitter involved in learning and overall cognition — and is so potent that it led to their discovery [8].

Despite the potential cognitive benefits of pure nicotine, there is little argument to justify putting up with the adverse effects of smoking or vaping.

Unfortunately, tobacco is one of the most abused substances globally, reinforced by physical and psychosocial factors, and very high relapse rates [9].

There are many resources, tools, and services to support smoking cessation. Unexpected suppression of nicotine cravings while on metabolic medications only highlights the complex and challenging nature of addiction and behavioural conditioning [10].

At Compound, we celebrate leaning into difficulty by doing whatever it takes to help men face challenges and break through barriers to achieve better health.

Our earliest members of Compound are leveraging our programme as a catalyst to quit vaping and we admire all those who are addressing addiction or unhealthy habits.

This post contains general information about health and wellness practices. It is not intended as medical advice and should not be treated as such. Please consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new health regimen. This information is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.

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