SCIENCE: The Chemistry of Addiction - a video by SciShow

Scientists say we are experiencing something of a Golden Age with regards to brain research. The human brain is arguably the most advanced piece of technology in the known universe, and better understanding it is the most exciting step towards better understanding who we are.

The Chemistry of Addiction is a well-presented video brought to us by SciShow – a channel that is quite addictive itself. This particular video about the human brain and brain chemistry offers great insight into why we behave the way we do.

The Chemistry of Addiction

I'm sure the above video is rewarding enough, but I provide a summary below just to reinforce my own understanding of The Chemistry of Addiction. I have also written similar articles such as I drink therefore I am and Web Addiction 2.0 if you're interested in brain chemistry, pharmacology and addiction in general.

The Chemistry of Addiction: A Summary

Learning what chemicals make us feel good (in terms of their affects on the human brain) has essentially lead us to inventing addiction. Eating, sex, gambling, smoking, drinking and even the Internet are all examples of behaviours that can become hugely addictive.

There are over 100 neurotransmitters in our brains that respond to new information by releasing chemicals. These are often in response to how we feel in particular situations. If a particular situation or behaviour is key to our survival (loosely speaking), our brain is likely to reinforce this by releasing 'feel good' chemicals or hormones so that we will repeat certain behaviours in the future.

Getting high on dopamine

Dopamine is the most powerful excitory neurotransmitter that is released whenever our brain believes that we should take strong note of our current behaviour in order to remember it. Eating, sexing and running away from danger are examples of dopamine-releasing situations. However, dopamine is also primarily what drives addiction.

Chasing 'artificial highs' via excessive substance use or excessive pornography viewing for example, may fool our brains into releasing excess amounts of dopamine; however, it will become desensitised over time as it continuously tries to restore balance. The result is that more of a particular substance or behaviour is required in order to feel the same effects recorded to memory from first use.

Why smoking is so addictive

Nicotine has the effect of releasing large amounts of dopamine in our brains. However, in order to leverage this effect, our brains also release a chemical (glutamate) which plays an important role in memory formation. This has the addictive effect of telling our brains to remember that smoking makes us 'feel good' and reinforces the habit.

The effect of alcohol on our brains

Alcohol interferes with the neurotransmitters that allow our bodies and brains to function as one. More alcohol results in slower communication between neurons, which is why we slur, crab-walk and often speak without thinking when we've had too much to drink.

There is a separate SciShow video dedicated to bath salts, which apparently contain an artificial stimulant that combines the effect of both cocaine and meth simultaneously! So think twice before you buy bath salts for your loved one this Christmas!

SciShow - The Chemistry of Addiction

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TWISP: Kick the habit with an electronic cigarette

The newest 'desgins' of the Twisp electronic cigarette

The newest 'desgins' of the Twisp electronic cigarette

AS someone who smoked cigarettes for a few years (and still experiences moments of weakness, especially when alcohol comes into the mix), some might find it strange that I am a complete advocate for anti-smoking laws. In fact, I look forward to the day when smoking in public is banned entirely and punishable by law, at least for my future children’s sake.

And it seems that it won’t be long before this happens. Some new laws under the Tobacco Act were signed recently which make smoking illegal in “any partially enclosed” public place (areas like covered patios, verandas, balconies in apartment buildings, covered walkways and parking lots). Also in the pipeline is making smoking illegal in sports stadia, on railway platforms, at bus stops, in fully outdoor areas where food is served, and outside the entrances to buildings.

This may be a little extreme, but I fully agree with banning smoking in partially enclosed areas. I used to sneak outside whenever the craving set in so as not to bother anyone. In my estimation, lighting up in a small enclosed room is worse than breaking wind deliberately. At least the latter doesn’t linger as long.

Some scary facts & figures
Now there is a reason to be more considerate, as any breach of the above anti-smoking laws carries a maximum fine of R50 000 payable by the pub, bar, workplace or restaurant owner and R500 payable by the individual smoker.

This may be enough to discourage non-smokers from carelessly taking up the habit, but the real goal is to get the 22% of adult South Africans who continue to smoke to quit. I know from experience that this is no easy task. Most substance abuse facts will tell you that quitting smoking is a tough thing, but many people have managed to successfully quit with the help of smoking cessation aids or even addiction treatment. I’ve witnessed people try several different methods to help them quit, ranging from the “scientifically guaranteed” to the most bizarre self-remedies.

no-smoking-signThe strangest case was that of my grandfather. He basically went cold turkey but still carried cigarettes with him. He would simply pretend to smoke without actually lighting his cigarette, replacing it with a new one whenever it got a little soggy. It was really strange to watch.

But now there is now finally an alternative that the tobacco companies can be really afraid of — the electronic cigarette, or more specifically, the Twisp. Here’s a description from the Twisp electronic cigarette website:

“Twisp is not a real cigarette, but a personal and portable vapouriser, that uses micro-electronics and a lithium polymer cell to evaporate nicotine in ‘smoke’ from a replaceable cartridge. The vapour does not smell nor does it contain tar, carcinogens or smoke particulate found in first and second- hand cigarette smoke, but it feels, tastes and looks just like the real thing. Best of all you can ‘smoke’ your nicotine machine virtually ANYWHERE!”

Being able to 'smoke' one of these electronic devices ANYWHERE may be questionable, but if the law had to fine someone for smoking a Twisp they may as well fine anyone who burns incense or wears pungent perfume.

The smell and taste of a Twisp electronic cigarette has been described as similar to a hookah pipe. Like hookah tobaccos, Twisp cartridges are available in a variety of flavours and strengths, including tobacco, vanilla, coffee, chocolate, cherry, strawberry and mint — all in high, medium, low and zero nicotine concentrations.

Twisp Electronic Cigarette

Similar to a cellphone, Twisp batteries require a deep cycle charge before first use for eight hours or overnight. After which one to three hours will completely charge the battery (depending on the model).

A Twisp electronic cigarette consists of a battery (white part), an atomiser (silver part) and a cartridge (yellow/orange part), and comes with five replacable cartridges. An optional purchase is a small jar of liquid, which contains propylene glycol, water, flavour and nicotine. This can be used to refill the cartridges or dripped directly onto the atomiser to create a superior amount of flavour and vapour.

In essence, a Twisp electronic cigarette is a miniature atomiser which heats the ingredients to the point of vapourisation. When someone puffs the Twisp, a flow sensor activates the rechargeable lithium polymer battery, which starts the process of atomising, heating and evaporation, creating a thick vapour that looks like smoke.

What is in a Twisp electronic cigarette?

  • Propylene Glycol is a common food grade additive, generally regarded as safe by the Food and Drug Administration and used to suspend flavour and create the simulated smoke. It is also found in toothpaste, mouthwash and as a humectant in tobacco products (keeps tobacco moist).
  • Nicotine is an alkaloid found in certain plants, predominantly tobacco, and in much lower quantities in tomatoes, potatoes, bringles (eggplants) and green peppers. Nicotine itself isn’t carcinogenic (a cancer causing agent) nor does not have any mutagenic properties.

Because a Twisp electronic cigarette doesn’t burn tobacco, the vapour you are inhaling is free of hazardous smoke particulates, tar and carcinogenic compounds produced when tobacco and additives are burned. There is no smokey smell nor does the vapour stain teeth or fabric.

To be extra safe a Twisp electronic cigarette has a built-in safety mechanism to prevent the user inhaling more than 15 times in a minute. If the device feels that it is being dragged too hard for too long it shuts down and LED flashes for a short period of time.

How long does a Twisp electronic cigarette last?
Electronic cigarette smokers are no longer compelled to smoke the entire cigarette, so about 10 puffs is the average use. The “mini” cartridges last between 10 to 15 cigarettes, the classic carts between 30 to 40 cigarettes. Liquids last about 300 to 400 cigarettes per 10 ml and the cigars between 1 800 to 2 000 puffs or 200 cigarettes.

  • The Twisp mini is available for around R800 and comes with five refillable cartridges and a three- month warranty. If you are the average 20 a day smoker and use a Twisp electronic cigarette as an alternative to smoking, it should pay for itself in fewer than six weeks.

Twisp is only intended for smokers with a pre-existing nicotine addiction. It is also not recommended for pregnant or lactating women, or those sensitive to nicotine or propylene glycol. It is not for sale to children under the age of 18.

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