Heroin and other opiate drugs are highly addictive substances thus making them extremely difficult to stop using. Smokers consistently find it very hard to stop smoking. Coincidence? Not according to a new animal study at the University of Pennsylvania, and published in the journal Neuron, which found nicotine produces a brain response similar to that of heroin and the other opiates.
It appears that nicotine causes an increase in the level of naturally occurring opioids, which are very similar to opiate drugs. Thus, the researchers found that nicotine produced a rise in the level of a protein thought to be involved in the brain’s response to several narcotic drugs. In addition, nicotine also affects the brain pathway activated by heroin and other opiates.
Interestingly, when the nicotine-addicted mice were placed in the same cage where they had previously received nicotine, the same signals were set off in their brains.
When a drug that reverses the effects of narcotic drugs (naloxone) was administered, it blocked the effect of nicotine as well as the similar effect produced in the nicotine-associated cage.
Dr. Julie A. Blendy and the rest of the team see the results as raising the possibility of using opioid-blocking drugs to treat the symptoms of nicotine addition.