Why Could Smoking Contribute to Mental Illness?
It’s not clear why smoking could increase the likelihood of mental illness. “One thought is that when you smoke and inhale the nicotine, it activates the receptor for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which eventually leads to the release of dopamine and serotonin.”
Because the dopaminergic system is heavily involved in schizophrenia, it could be that the nicotine or some other component in cigarettes could be disrupting the dopaminergic pathways in the brain that could ultimately contribute to schizophrenia, he explains.
It’s kind of a crazy historical footnote, but doctors actually prescribed or recommended cigarettes for people with schizophrenia 50 or 60 years ago, “Patients found that smoking relieved some of their symptoms.”
Often people are not as worried about smoking as they are about other kinds of substance abuse because the negative effects, such as lung cancer or cardiac problems, can seem far down the road.
Smoking prevalence among people with a mental health condition is more than 50% higher than in the general population. The Mental Health and Smoking Partnership aims to address this disparity in smoking rates and ensure smokers with a mental health condition are not left behind as we move towards a smoke-free 2030.
The Partnership was established in 2016 following the publication of The Stolen Years report. Its aim is to bring together organisations committed to improving the health and lives of people with a mental health condition through achieving report’s ambitions.
The Partnership meets regularly and brings together Royal Colleges, third sector organisations and academia to review progress and highlight areas for further action. It is jointly chaired by Professor Ann McNeill, Professor of Tobacco Addiction at the National Addictions Centre, King’s College London, and Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation.
This report from the Mental Health and Smoking Partnership and the Royal College of Psychiatrist’s Public Mental Health Implementation Centre outlines the contribution smoking is making to poorer quality of life of people with a mental health condition and the extent to which it is driving poor mental health. It seeks to set out a suggested approach for ICS and local government in addressing the cycle of dependence between smoking and poor mental health.
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, not only does quitting tobacco provide extensive physical health benefits but it also supports behavioural health treatment and could improve mental health.
For smokers with a mental health condition, the association between smoking and feeling relaxed is more pronounced. It is commonly believed that people with a mental health condition use tobacco to self-medicate. However, the relief from nicotine withdrawal is only temporary and in the long run continued smoking can exacerbate problems. Smokers with a mental health condition tend to be more heavily addicted to smoking; and the higher the number of cigarettes smoked per day, the greater the likelihood of developing a mental health condition. The more severe the mental health condition, the more likely a person is to be a smoker.
Consequences of tobacco use
People with mental health conditions die on average 10-20 years earlier than the general population. This is not due to increased suicide rates but a result of a number of socio-economic and healthcare factors. Smoking is the single largest contributor to reduced life expectancy. The rates of cancer, heart disease and respiratory diseases among people with schizophrenia, who have the highest rates of smoking of any group, are up to double those of age-matched controls.
Tobacco smoke interacts with some psychiatric medication making it less effective, resulting in increased dosages and more side effects associated with these drugs. As such, smokers on these medications who reduce their tobacco consumption can expect to be prescribed lower doses.
The Surprising Benefits of Nicotine
It appears that nicotine, when given isolated from tobacco, can protect the brain from aging. It also cuts down the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Some of these surprising benefits can explain why some seem to need nicotine more than others, and ways to get these benefits without smoking.
What Is Nicotine?
When you think of nicotine, the first thing that comes to mind is cigarettes and tobacco products. Many people assume that nicotine is a harmful ingredient in tobacco products, which are known to cause several serious illnesses including cancer.
However, nicotine in itself is not harmful and has been associated with several health benefits. In fact, nicotine is the least harmful among the substances found in cigarettes. Nicotine, when used independently in the form of a standalone patch, can help cognitive function without requiring exposure to any of the dangerous toxins found in cigarettes.
Due to nicotine’s ability to enhance cognition, many of the people resorting to cigarettes or nicotine patches do so as a means to stay focused and calm during demanding work.
It appears that using nicotine can enhance cognitive capacity and offer neuroprotection, some scientific evidence suggests. For example, using nicotine is known to help people in solving complex calculations, considering analytical problems, producing technical writing, and taking exams.
Cigarettes contain tobacco and several other harmful chemicals which actually make this product hazardous to health. While nicotine is considered a highly addictive drug, there is a lack of significant evidence to support the idea that it is carcinogenic. Cancer has been associated with nicotine primarily because it is present in cigarettes. Studies suggest that the various harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke are what make smoking so hazardous to health. Hence smoking should never be seen as a healthy means of nicotine intake.
Safer nicotine can be delivered through e-cigarettes, disposable vapes and vaping machines.
Nicotine promotes wakefulness, alertness, motivation, and creativity. Further, nicotine has proven beneficial in several health conditions including dementia, depression, anxiety disorders, ADHD, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease thus bringing this drug under the scope of large-scale research.
The following are some of the potential benefits of this nootropic drug and its associated effect on health:
- Helps prevent Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
- Promotes wakefulness
- Boosts memory
- Reduces ADHD symptoms
- Promotes weight loss
- Supports a healthy gut
- Repairs tissue
These benefits of nicotine are observed only when the drug is taken alone. Smoking should in no way be seen as a means to access these benefits of nicotine as it has major damaging effects on health. In that form, it can cause more harm than good.
Tobacco Harm Reduction
A recent Lancet Editorial about the slow pace of tobacco control around the world singled out the UK as a leader in reducing the number of smokers. It has accomplished this feat, the Editorial stated, through measures such as increased tobacco taxes, comprehensive smoke-free laws in public spaces, and health warnings on product packages.
Yet, there was no mention of alternative nicotine delivery devices, such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, even though strong evidence shows that smokers who used e-cigarettes in combination with in-person counselling were twice as likely to quit as those who used other nicotine replacement products. And this, despite a series of seven reports on vaping published by Public Health England that noted such devices might play a “crucial role in reducing the enormous health burden caused by cigarette smoking”.
Indeed, such findings have been welcomed by Action on Smoking and Health, the Royal College of Physicians, and the National Health Service, the latter of which, as part of an effort to make the UK smoke-free by 2030, is currently considering adding e-cigarettes to its prescriptions to combat smoking.
The Lancet should praise the UK for showing how smoking can become obsolete through approaches that include tobacco harm reduction.
I don’t give out medical advice but the benefits of switching from smoking tobacco to a 95% safer nicotine delivery device could not only be the answer to assist people to quit smoking, it can also impact on peoples wellbeing.
With the government targeting 2030 to be completely smoke-free, more and more smokers are turning to vaping. Cigarettes will continue to go up in price/taxes during a cost of living crisis.
Have you considered quitting smoking?
If you are a smoker I expect you have thought about quitting many times but have you considered switching to e-cigarettes?
The benefits are, live longer, save money and become healthier without sacrificing any of your routines or habits.
What if I have a mental health condition?
According to the World Health Organization, people with severe mental health disorders have a 10–25-year reduction in life expectancy. Schizophrenia mortality rates are between 2 and 2.5 times those in the general population, while individuals with depression have a 1.8 times higher risk of premature mortality.
This is due to a number of factors including lifestyle choices but as I’ve shown smoking has a higher prevalence amongst the mentally ill are likely to smoke heavier.
Health professionals should be pushing for tobacco harm reduction and a safer form of nicotine.
Why are we not concentrating on the country’s most poorest and vulnerable people promoting safer nicotine, saving them money, health and increasing their life expectancy.
If you do suffer from a severe mental illness or disorder please consult with a professional before switching to vaping as you medication may need reducing.
False fears preventing smokers from using e-cigarettes to quit
Over half of smokers believe nicotine vaping products are equally or more harmful than smoking despite US vaping deaths being caused by substances banned in UK.