NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
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  • When tobacco is smoked, nicotine is absorbed by the lungs and quickly moved into the bloodstream, where it is circulated throughout the brain.

  • Hi, my name's Sara Bellum. Welcome to my magazine series exploring the brain's response to drugs. In this issue, we'll investigate the fascinating facts about nicotine. Some of this information was only recently discovered by leading scientists.

    For centuries, people have chewed and smoked tobacco, which comes from the plant nicotiana tabacum. The reason tobacco is used by so many people is because it contains a powerful drug known as nicotine.

  • Your brain is made up of billions of nerve cells. They communicate by releasing chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Each neurotransmitter is like a key that fits into a special "lock," called a receptor, located on the surface of nerve cells. When a neurotransmitter finds its receptor, it activates the receptor's nerve cell.

  • Did you know that nicotine is as addictive as heroin or cocaine? If someone uses nicotine again and again, such as by smoking cigarettes or cigars or chewing tobacco, his or her body develops a tolerance for it. When someone develops tolerance, he or she needs more drug to get the same effect. Eventually, a person can become addicted. Once a person becomes addicted, it is extremely difficult to quit. People who start smoking before the age of 21 have the hardest time quitting, and fewer than 1 in 10 people who try to quit smoking succeed.

  • Withdrawal may be bad, but long-term smoking can be much worse. It raises your blood pressure, dulls your senses of smell and taste, reduces your stamina, and wrinkles your skin. More dangerously, long-term smoking can lead to fatal heart attacks, strokes, emphysema, and cancer.

    You may be surprised to learn that tobacco use causes far more illnesses and death than all other addicting drugs combined. One out every six deaths in the United States is a result of smoking.

  • The brain's best defense against nicotine is to think hard before using it. Start by trying to match the correct percentages to the statements located below.

    1. Percentage of smokers who start smoking in their teens

    2. Percentage of smokers age 17 or less who say they regret starting

    3. Percentage of youth smokers who will continue smoking and die early from a smoking-related disease

    A.   About 30%
    B.   80% - 90%
    C.   70%


  • The truth is, there's still a whole lot that scientists don't know about nicotine's effects on the brain. Maybe someday you'll make the next big discovery.

    Until then, join me - Sara Bellum - in the other magazines in my series as we explore how drugs affect the brain and nervous system.

  • The NIDA Blog Team

    News reports are gaining attention on how bees have been dying in large numbers—much higher numbers than before 2006. Beekeepers and scientists have been mystified about why this is happening. Dying honeybees are a big problem for farmers, too, because the bees pollinate agricultural crops—okra, apples, cabbage, broccoli, and dozens more—and help them grow. So fewer bees means fewer crops, which is bad for food supplies and the economy.

    No, you haven’t accidentally clicked over to a blog for bee lovers. Believe it or not, the bee crisis—and possible solutions to it—may be closely connected to the subject of drugs.

    Getting their buzz on

    Some scientists think one cause of the bee crisis is a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. These pesticides are chemically related to nicotine, the addictive substance in tobacco (and most e-cigarettes), and are used on many crops—crops that are then pollinated by bees.  This means that when bees pollinate the crops with this type of pesticide, they pick up some of it up.

    Some researchers speculate that bees are actually getting addicted to the pesticide—much like people get addicted to nicotine. Just like those addicted to cigarettes, bees may keep going back to neonicotinoids for another “hit.” Bye-bye, bee.

    In one recent study, bees preferred nectar laced with neonicotinoids to nectar without the pesticides. The researchers found that the bees couldn’t taste a difference between the two types of nectars (by using an electron microscope to see if the taste receptors in the bees’ mouths were stimulated).  This is why the researchers think the neonicotinoids might have hooked the bees’ brains.

    (For now, the Environmental Protection Agency has stopped approving new outdoor uses for neonicotinoids, while it waits to see results from additional studies on bees’ health.)

    Are we bee-brained?

    Does it matter if the human brain and the bee brain act in similar ways? Over at the NIDA website, Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA’s director, says that the bee research suggests that studying the science behind addiction in people might also give us a better understanding of animal behavior. If it does, we may learn how to end the bee crisis.

    More research will reveal if, like people addicted to tobacco and other dangerous substances, bees are getting hooked on the same chemicals that could be killing them.

    Brain Science
    Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.