Friday, November 05, 2004

Smoking Affects Brain Like Heroin

Oh, the wonders of science.

Thanks to our wonderful friends at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, we now know that smoking cigarettes can have a heroin-like affect on the brain. While the MSN webpage linked to frames this as a significant discovery, I'd like to offer a different interpretation:

For starters, is this really a surprise? Drugs can cause pleasure, and use is correlated with addiction and dependency (in fact, almost contingent thereupon - it's very hard to become addicted to nicotene or heroin, and even impossible to become chemically dependent upon them, if you don't first indulge in their consumption). This isn't exactly earth-shattering; we've known that cigarettes can be addictive and pleasant (in some way) for years.

Finally, consider this: the brain is awash in chemicals, some of which resemble opiates. Endorphins, for example, which can dull pain perceptions and affect emotions. If you're happy, guess what: there are drugs floating about in the gray lump sitting between your shoulders. If you're ecstatic, trembling with job, almost crying, believe-you-me, you're flying just as certainly as a crack-monkey.

Even something like love is known to have drug-like effects; via a chemical cocktail of endorphins, norepinephrine, monoamines, dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin (to name a few), love gives us "wings," a metaphor not entirely dissimilar from that used to describe an LSD trip.

So when researchers come to comclusions like these, is it really good science, or just lunacy?


Anonymous said...

Different drugs have different levels of addictive quality. Cocaine for instance, is not considered addictive by the scientific community, though it gives one serious pleasure. Ecstacy theoretically, is even more jacked up than cocaine in terms of it's results in neurochemistry, but it isn't addictive either.

Alchohol and Heroine are called physically addictive because if you don't use, your body physically breaks down. If Cigs are like that, it's bad.

The human body isn't just a pleasure-pain machine. If science looks to understand human nature, scientists can't be simplified moralists, they need to be bio-chemists.

Anonymous said...

It's excellent science.

The question in this case is not the presence of addiction, which has been long known. The issue being raised is the mechanism of addiction.

Knowing the similarity of the mecahnism of addictive response gives us gretaer insight to the chemical mature of the brain, and could allow for the design of novel drugs.

-Anonymous #3

Tim said...

Studies involving withdrawal symptoms for alcohol and opiates (morphine) have been done where said symptoms were ameliorated via placebo.

I'm not going to argue that all dependency is of this nature, but a strong psychological component is clearly operating in all such conditions. The chief influence on this psychological disposition is learned, I believe, via social interaction. See Howard Becker's "Outsiders" for an analysis of the drug-using jazz-culture. We learn, in effect, how to respond and feel about things - from coffee to pot (marijuana, that is).

Three years ago I started drinking coffee. I hated it. Foul, nasty black stuff. But the thing was, I wanted to like it, so I kept drinking it, and eventually I did. I love the stuff now, roast my own beans fresh, and drink 2-3 shots of espresso every day. Somewhere along the line, I hijacked my brain, so to speak.

The same thing happens with other comestibles; spicy food isn't naturally lovable, yet many people enjoy it, developing a taste for it (a useful turn of speech which illustrates the process of acquiring taste for a thing). Give a strongly spiced item to a child and you'll not likely get a happy child. They've not had the chance to rewire their brains. We have, and we do it all the time, and not just with food.

Does it really surprise anyone that food can be addictive? My main objection to the present state of our consciousness of the issue in America is that we've made a biological problem out of it, thus effectively removing volitional impetus for change - you can't alter your genes, and if you believe that they cause you to overeat or become fat, then you're less likely to do anything about it. Even if true, it's an unproductive perspective because of this.