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Is Nicotine Bad For You?



Short answer

Alone, nicotine is not necessarily bad for you, but the way it enters your body can be.



Long answer

Nicotine alone does not pose many negative health risks on your body. In fact, it is mostly just a stimulant similar to caffeine. Nicotine and whole tobacco have been used for thousands of years for this purpose. Evidence of its use can still be seen in Mayan temple carvings. Before tobacco became a cash crop, it was used for religious events and as a medicine.

Nicotine can even enhance some of your daily activities. It has been shown to effectively enhance rapid visual cue processing and vigilance, and can sharpen your short-term memory, concentration, and attention. Nicotine binds to receptors in the brain that release dopamine which allows not only for the positive effects on concentration but also suppresses appetite, calms anxiety and body movement, and can improve mood and arousal. It is assumed that this dopamine effect is why long-term smokers with degenerative brain diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s show fewer symptoms than non-smokers.

Since nicotine is a stimulant, it is possible to experience some short-term symptoms after it enters your body. They are similar to other stimulants effects though and include increased heart rate, arrhythmia, chest pains, seizures, and skin rash.

Nicotine also raises your blood sugar, which explains why it can suppress your appetite. The danger in this effect is if you are a diabetic. A study by Xiao-Chuan Liu found that nicotine can raise HbA1c levels by as much as 34%. For diabetics, this means a greatly increased risk of blindness, negative heart health effects, and nerve damage.

It is important to note that the method of adding nicotine to your body is where the negative health effects can arise. The stimulant and addictive nature of the nicotine in cigarettes is exceptionally dangerous as it keeps you wanting more and more. But, the nicotine is not the dangerous part in the cigarette – the smoke and the nearly 6,000 chemicals it contains from additives in the cigarette is the problem. When these chemical enter your lungs through the inhaled smoke, your blood stream in immediately affected causing decreased oxygen transport and making blood platelets sticky increasing the risk of atherosclerosis.

When nicotine enters the body through other means such as gum, patches, lozenges, inhalers and sprays, there is no increased risk of heart disease or cancer.

Possible short-term side effects

  • increased/uneven heartbeat
  • chest pain
  • seizure
  • skin rash
  • addiction
  • increased blood sugar
  • mild headache
  • nausea

Possible withdrawal symptoms

  • headache
  • nausea
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • fatigue, drowsiness, and insomnia
  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • anxiety
  • depressed mood


  • boosts mood, memory, concentration
  • suppress appetite
  • calms anxiety and body movements

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Kristin Brown, DC, MS
Published on: 07-23-2016
Last updated: 12-10-2016

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Kristin Brown, DC, MS
Published on: 07-23-2016
Last updated: 12-10-2016

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