Everyone knows that nicotine is bad for one's heath, especially because it is most commonly associated with smoking cigarettes which as we know leads to many serious conditions and diseases. However some researchers investigated the possibility that nicotine might actually be helpful in some conditions is namely in Parkinson’s disease and Tourette syndrome.
Nicotine is a natural derivate from the tobacco plant. It has been known for some thirty years that it has a certain role in brain functions, specifically it acts as a stimulant of the brain chemicals that are used in message transmission between nerves and inside the brain. Those are called neurochemicals.
It has been proven that blocking dopamine, which is one of the neurotransmitters, leads to symptoms much similar to those of Parkinson’s disease- twitching and involuntary movement. Combined with small amount of nicotine the result was almost complete immobility in laboratory animals.
Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder in which a person is not able to inhibit certain words or movements. Children with Tourette syndrome have many motor tics, twitches, they shout out obscenities or things they otherwise would not.
Tourette is often associated to other disorders, like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Attention Deficit Disorder.
Children and young people who suffer from Tourette syndrome have recently started a therapy with drugs that inhibit dopamine. However, in some cases this treatment simply gives no results. This is why some researchers have been trying out the combination of dopamine blockers and nicotine.
At first, the scientists administered nicotine in the form of nicotine gum. There were some results, especially in the first 30 minutes. Many of involuntary tics, grimaces and shouts subsided. The problem was however that children simply did not like the gum. They said it tasted bitter and they either spat it out instantly or they chewed on it like regular gum and swallowed it which caused some gastrointestinal problems. The gum is supposed to be bitten and placed inside the cheek where the nicotine is absorbed best.
The researchers quickly replaced the gum with nicotine patches, which resulted in a decrease of tics and behavioral problems. The patch has a few side effects, like nausea and itching, so they are working on finding a solution for this.
Research done with Parkinson’s patients showed some results as well. There was an improvement in motor functions in some cases mild in some dramatic. In patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease the goal was to improve cognitive processes.
Many pharmaceutical companies are now working to find a drug that will have same effects as nicotine and generally act as nicotine but with fewer and more mild side effects.