Thursday, March 4, 2021

How Does Smoking Affect the Nervous System?

Most people understand how smoking affects the lungs and heart, but what is less known is the negative effect of smoking on the nervous system and brain.

In this article, we will discuss the effects of smoking on your nervous system as well as the benefits of quitting smoking.

Effects of Smoking on Brain
How Does Smoking Affect the Brain?

Effects of Smoking on the Brain and Nervous System

Tobacco can be obtained by inhaling it or chewing it, but when inhaled, the mixture of nicotine with small tar particles travels to the lungs, and it is quickly absorbed there, then the nicotine is transferred to the bloodstream, and it soon reaches the brain within eight seconds after it is inhaled. 

In the case of obtaining tobacco by chewing it; It takes three to five minutes for nicotine to reach the central nervous system.

Nicotine has a clear effect on both the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system, depending on the person's mood. The dose of nicotine taken causes smoking to stimulate or relax these two systems.


Smoking may increase your risk of developing dementia and stroke, and it may also cause personality changes.

If you smoke, you may experience faster cognitive decline than non-smokers.

The longer you smoke, the higher your risk of greater loss of age-related brain volume.


Speaking of the rapid effect of nicotine, it can be explained as follows:

  • Increased blood pressure or hypertension.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Increased breathing speed.
  • Constriction and contraction of the arteries.
  • Stimulation of the central nervous system.


Smoking and Addiction

The mechanism by which a smoker becomes addicted and dependent on smoking can be explained as follows:


Nicotine in cigarettes causes addiction: The nicotine present in cigarettes causes addiction, and addiction to nicotine induces changes in the brain. When smoking, the brain increases the number of receptors that nicotine naturally attaches to as a way of adapting to absorb the high doses that reach the brain.

Therefore, if a person stops receiving normal amounts of nicotine, they produce nicotine withdrawal symptoms, including confusion and the desire to smoke.

In fact, those who smoke temporarily show fewer withdrawal symptoms than others, and this helps them get rid of this habit more easily.

 

Nicotine dependence: Regular and frequent smoking leads to what is known as nicotine dependence, which calls for an increase in the number of cigarettes used in order to be able to increase the percentage of nicotine that enters the body to achieve similar results.

It can be noted that the smoker may suffer from a problem of psychological or physical dependence, or both, so smoking becomes a habit that is difficult to get rid of. Here we mention a simple overview of the difference between psychological and physical dependence:

  • Psychological dependence: A smoker feels the desire to smoke when he is in a certain social environment or with friends.
  • Physical dependence: This appears after the smoker's body depends on certain amounts of nicotine, and the body’s need for its presence after it has adapted to it.


Smoking and Brain Aging

Although the effect of smoking on cognitive abilities is relatively little and needs more studies to be predicted correctly and completely, the effect of smoking actually exists, and this can be explained in some detail as follows:


Reduced cortical thickness of brain areas: Although the thickness of the cerebral cortex decreases with age as normal, smoking increases the possibility of this more, as it was found that the cerebral cortex of smokers is less thick than non-smokers.

This is because smoking destroys an important component of the brain, which is the gray matter, and we mention here that the cerebral cortex has a very important role in basic thinking skills such as learning and memory.


Mental changes: The amount of changes that occur to the brain when smoking is not yet known, and it is not clear whether these changes are reversible after stopping smoking or not, but it is known that smoking is accompanied by dementia and a decrease in the level of perception or knowledge.

In fact, there are indications that smokers, on average, have a relatively poor cognition in the later stages of their lives, and that memory and flexible perception are less compared to non-smokers.

According to what was published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), smoking is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia.

It is believed that approximately 14% of Alzheimer's cases around the world are attributed to smoking.

Smoking is also linked to brain atrophy, and a decrease in the volume of the cerebral cortex in some areas, as mentioned above.


Smoking and Mental Health

Some people smoke to control stress and its symptoms and signs. But this leads to negative consequences later in life. 

The link between smoking and the mental health of the individual can be explained as follows:


Smoking and anxiety: since nicotine gives smokers a direct feeling of comfort; Smokers believe that it reduces stress and anxiety, but this feeling is temporary and quickly disappears, so people show withdrawal symptoms - which are similar to anxiety symptoms - and an increase in the desire to smoke, and these symptoms disappear when they return to smoking, so smokers think that anxiety has disappeared.

The fact of this is that what happened is the disappearance of the withdrawal symptoms of smoking, which are similar to the symptoms of anxiety, as mentioned above, which leads to the conclusion that smoking does not reduce anxiety or its causes.

Research has shown that instead of helping people relax, smoking actually increases anxiety and stress.


Smoking and depressive disorder: There is a complex association between smoking and depression, but the picture is not yet clear as to whether depression causes smoking or that smoking causes depression.

To understand this better, it is indicated that nicotine stimulates the secretion of dopamine in the brain, and dopamine is the substance responsible for stimulating positive emotions in the human body. And because people with depression have a low level of this substance, it is believed that they resort to smoking to temporarily raise dopamine levels.

Indeed, smoking affects the brain in a way that stops dopamine synthesis in it. The supply of dopamine to the body decreases over time, which necessitates an increase in the amount of cigarettes a person smokes.

Thus, smoking cigarettes does not help in relieving symptoms of depression, and people with depression may have difficulty trying to stop smoking, as they show more withdrawal symptoms compared to others during attempts to quit, however, many people have succeeded in quitting smoking regardless of their psychological state.


Smoking and Schizophrenia: According to the Mental Health Foundation, those suffering from Schizophrenia smoke three times as much as other people, as they believe that smoking reduces the symptoms that accompany their disease, or reduces the side effects caused by the drugs they take for treatment.

 A causal relationship is believed to exist between smoking and schizophrenia, but there are various factors that may increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, so additional research is needed to fully understand the causal relationship between them.


Smoking and Stroke

Smoking doubles the risk of dying from a stroke, as a stroke causes brain damage and then death.

In fact, smokers are more likely to have a stroke compared to non-smokers, due to their increased chance of the aneurysm, as this aneurysm appears as a bulge in the blood vessels as a result of weakening their walls, and a more serious condition known as subarachnoid hemorrhage may appear.

The subarachnoid hemorrhage causes the blood vessel to crack or burst, and this condition may result in extensive brain damage that leads to death.

According to the World Health Organization, it is good to say that within 5 years of quitting smoking, the risk of stroke decreases, and then the percentage becomes comparable to non-smokers after 5-15 years of quitting smoking.


Does Your Brain Heal After Quitting Smoking?

Quitting smoking can help most major parts of the body from your brain to your DNA.

Although quitting smoking can be a long process, this can create positive structural changes in the cerebral cortex.

Many of the effects of quitting smoking on the nervous system can be noted as follows:

  • Brain chemical dopamine bounces back after quitting smoking.
  • Quitting smoking can realign your mind and help break the addiction cycle.
  • The number of nicotine receptors returns to nearly normal levels after one month of stopping smoking.
  • Quitting smoking reduces the levels of stress, depression, and anxiety and decreases the intake of medications used to improve mental health.
  • People who stop smoking feel positive and improved psychological state.
  • People who quit smoking get a boost in their quality of life.
  • People who stop smoking show improvements in their overall personality.

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