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Nicotine dependence
author source Publication Time2012-3-26 browse:time  

Smoking is a practice in which a substance, most commonly tobacco and/or cannabis, is burned and the smoke is tasted or inhaled. This is primarily practised as a route of administration for recreational drug use, as combustion releases the active substances in drugs such as nicotine and makes them available for absorption through the lungs. It can also be done as a part of rituals, to induce trances and spiritual enlightenment.

The most common method of smoking today is through cigarettes, primarily industrially manufactured but also hand-rolled from loose tobacco and rolling paper. Other smoking implements include pipes, cigars, bidis, hookahs, vaporizers and bongs. It has been suggested that smoking-related disease kills one half of all long term smokers but these diseases may also be contracted by non-smokers. A 2007 report states that about 4.9 million people worldwide each year die as a result of smoking.

Smoking is one of the most common forms of recreational drug use. Tobacco smoking is today by far the most popular form of smoking and is practiced by over one billion people in the majority of all human societies. Less common drugs for smoking include cannabis and opium. Some of the substances are classified as hard narcotics, like heroin, but the use of these is very limited as they are often not commercially available.

The history of smoking can be dated to as early as 5000 BC, and has been recorded in many different cultures across the world. Early smoking evolved in association with religious ceremonies; as offerings to deities, in cleansing rituals or to allow shamans and priests to alter their minds for purposes of divination or spiritual enlightenment. After the European exploration and conquest of the Americans, the practice of smoking tobacco quickly spread to the rest of the world. In regions like India and Subsaharan Africa, it merged with existing practices of smoking (mostly of cannabis). In Europe, it introduced a new type of social activity and a form of drug intake which previously had been unknown.

Perception surrounding smoking has varied over time and from one place to another; holy and sinful, sophisticated and vulgar, a panacea and deadly health hazard. Only relatively recently, and primarily in industrialized Western countries, has smoking come to be viewed in a decidedly negative light. Today medical studies have proven that smoking tobacco is among the leading causes of many diseases such as lung cancer, heart attacks, COPD, erectile dysfunction and can also lead to birth defects. The inherent health hazards of smoking have caused many countries to institute high taxes on tobacco products and anti-smoking campaigns are launched every year in an attempt to curb tobacco smoking.

Modern research shows that nicotine acts on the brain to produce a number of effects. Specifically, research examining its addictive nature has been found to show that nicotine activates the Mesolimbic pathway ("reward system") the circuitry within the brain that regulates feelings of pleasure and euphoria.

Dopamine is one of the key neurotransmitters actively involved in the brain. Research shows that by increasing the levels of dopamine within the reward circuits in the brain, nicotine acts as a chemical with intense addictive qualities. In many studies it has been shown to be more addictive than cocaine and heroin.Like other physically addictive drugs, nicotine withdrawal causes down-regulation of the production of dopamine and other stimulatory neurotransmitters as the brain attempts to compensate for artificial stimulation. As dopamine regulates the sensitivity of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors decreases. To compensate for this compensatory mechanism, the brain in turn upregulates the number of receptors, convoluting its regulatory effects with compensatory mechanisms meant to counteract other compensatory mechanisms. An example is the increase in norepinephrine,one of the successors to dopamine, which inhibit reuptake of the glutamate receptors, in charge of memory and cognition. The net effect is an increase in reward pathway sensitivity, the opposite of other addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroin, which reduce reward pathway sensitivity. This neuronal brain alteration can persist for months after administration ceases.

A study found that nicotine exposure in adolescent mice retards the growth of the dopamine system, thus increasing the risk of substance abuse during adolescence

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