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Heroin Users, Smokers Share Some Similar Brain Chemistry

When non-smokers describe the effect smoking has on their friends and family, typically they use words like "unhealthy" and "addiction." Little did they know how right they are...

Based on a comparison of brain scans, researchers found smoking produces major changes in the flow of "feel good" chemicals between brain cells, both temporarily and long-term. The human brain's natural system of chemicals, called endogenous opioids, play a role in dampening painful sensations, heightening positive emotions, and creating a sense of reward. It's also the same system that is stimulated by heroin and morphine.

Researchers found smokers have an altered opioid flow all the time, when compared with non-smokers, and that smoking a cigarette further alters that flow by 20-30 percent in regions of the brain important to emotions and cravings. This change in flow on a brain scan was directly related to changes in how the smokers themselves reported feeling before and after smoking.

All of these factors may explain why smoking affects people the way it does -- including the mystery of a smoker's countless failed attempts to quit, despite tobacco's many health dangers.

As you know, I believe one's addiction to sugar may be more dangerous to one's health than smoking. Makes you wonder if there's any correlation between the two, however.

Science Blog October 27, 2004



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