Brain Development: Normal Processes and the Effects of Alcohol and Nicotine

Everything you need to know about nicotine
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Is it true that smoking changes your brain somehow, making it harder to stop smoking? If so, how does that happen? Is there anything that can be done to change it back? Yes, that's true. When you smoke, your brain changes in response to the very high levels of nicotine delivered by cigarettes. Those brain changes cause you to become addicted to nicotine, and that addiction can make stopping smoking very difficult. Nicotine is the chemical in tobacco that keeps you smoking.

Nicotine that gets into your body through cigarettes activates structures normally present in your brain called receptors. When these receptors are activated, they release a brain chemical called dopamine, which makes you feel good. This pleasure response to dopamine is a big part of the nicotine addiction process. Over time, as you continue to smoke, the number of nicotine receptors in your brain increases. Addicted smokers have billions more of these receptors than nonsmokers do. But not all smokers have such a high level of receptors.

That is why some regular smokers can stop smoking without much difficulty. When you try to stop smoking, the receptors in your brain do not receive nicotine, so the pleasure response is cut off. The fastest way to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms is to smoke a cigarette, which releases dopamine and activates the pleasure response. To make stopping smoking even more difficult, the brain receptors can be conditioned to expect nicotine in certain situations long after you have stopped smoking.

For example, if you regularly smoke when you drink alcohol, or when you are in a stressful situation, or after a meal, the nicotine receptors in your brain anticipate the dopamine rush from nicotine at that time. These "trigger" situations can cause intense cravings for a cigarette, even if you have stopped smoking for several months. In fact, so many high school students are using the Juul that administrators are having to crack down and send emails to concerned parents.

The e-cigarette delivers a potent dose of nicotine with each puff and could potentially be just as addictive as traditional cigarettes. The cartridge is also the mouthpiece, so you just click it into the Juul and you're ready to go. The Juul device is rechargeable and comes with a USB charger that you can pop into your laptop or charging block.


One of the biggest differences between the Juul and other e-cigarettes is that there are no settings. The device senses when you take a pull from the mouthpiece and heats up to vaporize the liquid inside. So it's less likely to burn or explode , which has been an issue with other vapes.

Juul pods contain a mix of glycerol and propylene glycol, nicotine, benzoic acid, and flavorants, Gould says. The health effects of inhaling these ingredients aren't well-known, but one thing is certain: Nicotine is a highly addictive substance — and each hit of the Juul packs quite the nicotine punch. The nicotine content is 0. The Juul is a "closed system," meaning the user doesn't refill the e-liquid like you do with "tank systems," aka vape pens, which does allow for more quality control.

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The Juul is portable, easy to use, and delivers a cigarette-strength dose of nicotine — which makes it an attractive alternative. The stick-shaped design was also intended to appeal to smokers who were trying to quit. The Juul also produces minimal byproduct, so you don't blow out an obnoxious cloud of smelly smoke or vapor.

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This also makes it easier to use inside, although many places such as bars and restaurants have banned e-cigarettes and vapes. However, the FDA has not approved any e-cigarette as a safe or effective method to help smokers quit, according to the American Lung Association. The company is actively engaged in clinical and nonclinical studies and is going through the process of submitting applications to the FDA.

I'm not surprised that they're getting hooked," Dr. Harold J. Although it is illegal for people under the age of 18 to purchase e-cigarettes or other tobacco products, underage teens are still finding ways to get their hands on them.

How addiction hijacks the brain

Although the spike in use among young people has certainly increased sales, Juul made it clear that they do not want a teen market. This is a product designed for adult smokers to switch from cigarettes and we are trying our hardest to implement youth prevention programs," Gould says.

Alcohol effects on brain and body

That being said, just because e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco cigarettes it doesn't mean they are harmless. And Juul agrees.

According to their website, "no tobacco or e-liquid product should ever be considered 'safe' [and] we encourage consumers to do their own research regarding vapor products and what is right for them. And it's never just 'vapor' you are inhaling — it's vapor plus irritants and toxins and nicotine," Farber says. So you're still inhaling a lot of chemicals, especially if the vapor has flavoring agents. Although there aren't many acute health effects of inhaling e-cigarettes, they can exacerbate asthma and other lung conditions.

Researchers are most concerned that young people who are not smokers will start using e-cigarettes because they think it's harmless. Since e-cigarettes like the Juul contain nicotine, they're actually highly addictive. In theory, that means that someone who starts using e-cigarettes could become addicted to nicotine and end up smoking regular cigarettes. But for the youth, that means it has a higher addiction potential than other vapes," Siegel says.