Medicinal Tobacco

I’m tired of smokers being depicted as collateral damage in the epic struggle between Big Tobacco and the Anti-Tobacco Crusaders.

I, like many — possibly most – smokers made a conscious choice to start smoking and continue to make a conscious choice to keep smoking. Lord knows, these days, there’s more than enough “Quit Smoking” television and print ads to keep reminding you that stopping is a possibility..

The AT Crusaders never mention any positive effects that might lead a person to choose to smoke. I find that smoking tobacco helps me concentrate sometimes and to relax and let my mind wander and free associate at other times. Smoking is also a powerful source of satisfaction for so-called “oral” types – who also like to eat (and overeat) and talk (often too loudly) and are usually comfortable doing either with other people.

For a few benighted souls, tobacco is medicine. People suffering from overwhelming diseases ranging from schizophrenia to Parkinson’s to Alzheimer’s may find relief through smoking. These people are completely left out of the debate. It reminds me of the deaf-ear that medical marijuana proponents received in the early days of their quest.

Don’t believe me –

Why do schizophrenic patients smoke?
The German article (Cattapan-Ludewig et al) reviews studies that discuss why individuals with schizophrenia smoke chronically. Certain thinking patterns are affected in schizophrenia including sustained attention, focused attention, working memory, short-term memory, recognition memory and even processes that are preattentive (eg reflexes). Some studies have suggested that there may be improvements in these areas after treatment with nicotine. So, it maybe that nicotine is used as a “self-medication” strategy by those with schizophrenia to improve these difficulties with attention, cognition, and information processing as well as the side effects of antipsychotic medications (eg extrapyramidal effects).

Early adult smoking protects from schizophrenia
If you smoke early in your adult life you could be protecting yourself from developing schizophrenia in later life.

Research published this month in the American Journal of Psychiatry studied 50,000 Swedish conscripts from 1970 to 1996 to determine hospital admission for schizophrenia with 362 (0.70%) subjects diagnosed with the disease by the end of the study period.
The authors found an association between smoking cigarettes at age 18 and a lower rate of developing schizophrenia with a linear relationship between the number of cigarettes smoked and a lower risk of schizophrenia.

‘Cigarette smoking may be an independent protective factor for developing schizophrenia. These results are consistent with animal models showing both neuroprotective effects of nicotine and differential release of prefrontal dopamine in response to nicotine. The harmful effects of cigarette smoking vastly outweigh any possible benefits, but nevertheless, further investigation may lead to important insights regarding the etiology of schizophrenia at a molecular level,’ they concude.

Columbia Professor says smoking may help concentration
Recent research on the effect nicotine has on the brain suggests that smoking cigarettes may actually improve concentration abilities for people.

This preliminary conclusion is based on research on animals, but researchers at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons suspect that the study results may be applicable to humans as well and that nicotine may block some of the human brain’s ”background noise” so a person can more easily pay attention to important information that they are focused on.

The associate professor of neurology at Columbia University, David Sulzer, the lead author of the study that appears in Nature Neuroscience, suggested in a story in “The Miami Herald” that their recently-completed study may explain why most people with schizophrenia smoke a lot. “Nicotine may filter the stimuli that seems to flood the schizophrenic brain, helping tune out some of this excess information, he said” to the Miami Herald.

Dr. Sulzer and his team of Columbia researchers discovered that nicotine alters the response pattern of dopamine from a slow state to a fast burst of activity. The Miami Herald noted that “The fast bursts of dopamine make it easier for animals (and in theory, people) to tell the difference between important stimuli and background noise.”

Nicotine Improves Memory And Helps Brain Repair Itself
The remarkable protective effects of nicotine — the addictive chemical in tobacco — on the brain are continuing to surprise scientists. One recent study has found that one of nicotine’s metabolites, cotinine, may improve memory and protect brain cells from diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Another new study shows that nicotine can help improve some of the learning and memory problems associated with hypothyroidism. Such studies suggest that nicotine — or drugs that mimic nicotine — may one day prove beneficial in the treatment of neurological disorders.

Nicotine Studied As Treatment for Brain Disorders
The Boston Globe Reported this week that Nicotine is being studied as a treatment for brain disorders.

Scientists reported yesterday that nicotine seems to diminish mental impairment stemming from stress or an underactive thyroid – the latest in a growing body of evidence that the long vilified substance may help people with brain disorders ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to schizophrenia.

Nicotine researchers caution that the findings by no means offset the health ravages of smoking. But for years, a growing number of them have been exploring the aid nicotine may offer people with dementia, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and more.

Many smokers are making a choice to do something which is risky in order to achieve something they feel is worth the risk.

It may be a deal with the devil, but it’s the kind of deal adults make all the time.

It doesn’t do smokers (or non-smokers) any good to hear only one side of the debate.

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One Response to Medicinal Tobacco

  1. Rochelle says:

    Finally, a clearly thinking head in the smoking issue. While we maybe addicts, there most certainly is an element of choice in remaining a smoker. I chose to smoke, and resent being treated as though I’m incapable of making decisions for myself because of my choice to smoke.
    “It may be a deal with the devil, but it’s the kind of deal adults make all the time.” I LOVE IT!!
    Keep them coming.

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