As a physician, for over 35 years I have quietly and successfully helped many thousands of my patients to quit or cut down their use of nicotine, the poisonous and deadly addictive substance in cigarettes. I am astonished that we stand idly by and ignore the science of basic, brain chemistry and let almost 500,000 Americans and 5 million worldwide die of heart and lung disease and cancer, when all we have to do is provide smokers with some fundamental and practical knowledge and assist them in applying it in a simple, rational and scientific way.
Perfectly intelligent and informed smokers are nevertheless somehow compelled to risk their lives by abusing nicotine. What is the cause of this obsession and why do physicians compound the problem by prescribing nicotine through other delivery methods such as nicotine gum and patches? Why are potentially addictive and dangerous alternative drugs prescribed? These puzzling questions can only be answered by having some knowledge about basic brain chemistry, which also leads directly to an understanding of a smoking cessation plan or a plan to decrease cigarette use which does not involve nicotine or risky medication.
Staying focused and alert, dealing effectively with pain, being happy and handling stress in our lives does not happen magically. This is all dependent on having sufficient amounts of certain cell to cell communication molecules in the brain called neurotransmitters. These “feel good” molecules must be continuously synthesized in the brain from nutrients such as amino acids, vitamins and minerals. If our brain is short changed of these basic requirements, we can not function or feel our best. Memory and clarity of thinking can be adversely affected. We can become inattentive, moody, have problems dealing with stress and crave drugs, alcohol and junk food.
Pain is often a motivator, and most people will look for ways to avoid the discomfort and dysfunction caused by severe and persistent neurotransmitter deficiencies. Nicotine is a readily available chemical to offset these neurotransmitter shortfalls. Nicotine can temporarily improve mental clarity, mood instability and behaviors by substituting itself for the neurotransmitters that should normally be available. The improvements provided by nicotine lure users into a false sense of well being.
Nicotine may temporarily short circuit deficient brain chemistry to improve mood and function, but it is quickly detoxified away and users are back to square one, at least as depleted as before which drives them to smoke again. Over time, the brain compensates for the regular appearance of nicotine and lessens the synthesis of natural neurotransmitters. The smoker thus becomes progressively more dependent on tobacco, just to keep some neurotransmitter activity alive and get by in life. The hook is in, the bait is swallowed, and nicotine quietly assumes control of the mind, body and spirit.
One problem in trying to quit or cut down to safer levels is that the healthcare system is clueless about basic brain chemistry and what goes haywire in an addiction. Although we physicians get a basic education about brain chemistry, most of us don’t have a practical understanding about applying such knowledge. We are discouraged from using the real science of biochemistry and nutrition in favor of drug therapies, which merely switch a dependency on nicotine to another delivery method or to other equally dangerous and addictive chemicals.
Why would perfectly compassionate healthcare providers ignore basic brain science and worsen nicotine and other drug addiction? Addiction, whether in the marketing of illicit, prescription or legal/recreational chemicals, is big business. Addicts, once depleted in their neurotransmitters, are driven to subsidize the addiction industry. Pharmaceutical corporations finance much of the medical education, directly or indirectly, so healthcare providers are intentionally educated to not understand the simple, rational and science-based information presented here. You must “take the bull by the horns” and avoid the perpetual addiction traps set for you by the healthcare system.
A nicotine addicted person can only become “un-addicted” when their brain is able to again synthesize adequate amounts of acetylcholine and other neurotransmitters. This is simply the basic truth on which optimal functioning of life is based. Violate this fundamental truth and you can pay a horrendous price. If your brain is forced to compensate for the constant appearance of the poisonous nicotine, it will synthesize less of its natural neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine and others, driving cravings and other symptoms.
Your brain “hates” mind-altering drugs like nicotine and it will do whatever it can to rapidly clear them out (detoxification). Your brain prefers nutrients like choline and vitamin B5 (pantethine) delivered in your diet or by supplementation, which is all it needs to synthesize the “natural nicotine” neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Likewise, your brain “desires” the precursor amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine, as well as other B vitamins and minerals, to synthesize serotonin and dopamine, other neurotransmitters depleted by nicotine.
Proving that the immutable laws of biochemistry work is like proving that life works – life works! – but nevertheless, over the decades I have done outcome studies to prove that smoking cessation rates, or at least cutting down, are improved when we respect life on life’s terms. Disrespect life by trashing your brain with toxins and you can pay a serious price. Respect your beautiful chemistry and feed your brain the natural precursors and vitamins and minerals it absolutely requires, and quitting nicotine becomes safer, relatively painless and easy.