Nicotine is the main compound found in tobacco products and cigarettes. It is a poisonous alkaloid found in several species of plants belonging to the family of nightshade or Solanaceae. Apart from being an active ingredient in tobacco products, nicotine is also used as a drug in nicotine replacement therapy. Nicotine is highly addictive in nature and it can bring about a change in the level of chemicals in the brain like dopamine and norepinephrine to alter mood and increase alertness. When smoked, nicotine enters the lungs, from where it is absorbed by the bloodstream. Blood carries nicotine throughout the body, including the brain. This can give rise to several complications or side effects, which are discussed below.
Side Effects of Nicotine
Nicotine can affect several parts of the body, as it is carried by the bloodstream to different organs. The side effects can be classified into short-term effects and long-term effects.
- The short-term side effects include, an increase in the heart rate and blood pressure, and narrowing or constriction of the blood vessels.
- Apart from these, excessive nicotine intake can cause gastrointestinal problems like nausea, diarrhea, dyspepsia and flatulence.
- As nicotine directly affects the brain and the nervous system, it can lead to sleep disturbances or insomnia, irritability, dizziness, headache and abnormal dreams, especially in case of long-term intoxication.
- Prolonged use of nicotine can result in coronary artery or cardiovascular diseases, and significantly increase the risk for strokes.
- Excessive or overuse of nicotine is the leading cause for several types of cancer including oral cancer and cancer of the lung, esophagus and larynx.
- Some other side effects are insulin resistance, jaw pain, vision problems and decreased appetite.
- Asthma patients reportedly suffer from bronchospasms which makes respiration laborious.
Nicotine Replacement Products
Apart from being the main ingredient in tobacco products, nicotine is also used as a drug, especially in nicotine replacement therapy. In other words, nicotine is used to help people trying to quit smoking by minimizing nicotine withdrawal symptoms. For nicotine replacement therapy, nicotine is available as nicotine gum, lozenges, nicotine patch, nicotine inhaler and spray. These products provide nicotine in a very small dose, as compared to cigarette smoking, in an attempt to control the withdrawal symptoms.
Side Effects of Nicotine Replacement Products
Nicotine replacement products can also cause some serious side effects, if used excessively and for a prolonged time period. The first obvious side effect of nicotine gum, lozenges, patch or inhalers is that, they too can lead to addiction or dependence. Many times it has been observed that individuals taking nicotine replacement therapy to quit or stop smoking, eventually end up getting addicted to these products.
- Chewing nicotine gum can cause sleeping problems, muscle and joint pain, diarrhea, gum inflammation, hair loss and dry mouth. If not used in the right way, it can cause nausea, dizziness and vomiting.
- Nicotine lozenges can cause a funny and prickly sensation in the mouth. Sometimes severe allergic reactions can also follow, which would require immediate medical attention.
- Likewise, side effects patch can include vivid dreams, anxiety, diarrhea, headache, nausea and dizziness, excessive sweating, sleeping problems, as well as redness and itching or burning sensation at the place where it is applied.
- Nicotine inhalers can cause nervousness or anxiety, headache, cough, runny nose, diarrhea, indigestion, muscle and jaw pain. Sometimes, severe allergic reactions like hives or skin rash, breathing difficulty, tightness in the chest and swelling of the face, lips or throat can occur, with the use of nicotine patch and inhalers.
- Nicotine sprays on the other hand cause side effects like irritation of the nose and mouth, constipation, cough, change in taste and smell, headache, nosebleed, runny or stuffy nose and sinus irritation.
- Nicotine can have adverse side effects in pregnancy. Low birth weight, decreased blood flow to the placenta, preterm labor, various birth defects, and an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in newborns have been attributed to the use of nicotine during pregnancy. Therefore, pregnant women are strictly advised to avoid smoking. They are also suggested to try some other ways to quit smoking, before using nicotine replacement products.
The only way you can stop experiencing any of the above side effects is to quit using nicotine, in other words, quit smoking, or if you are using any nicotine replacement products, gradually reduce their use till you get rid of the addiction. The sooner you give up nicotine, the longer and healthier your life will be.