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What happens to my body as I inhale cigarette smoke?

When you inhale cigarette smoke, your lungs are punished with tar and many gases, including carbon monoxide. Nicotine, found in tobacco, affects your central nervous system as a stimulant. Once nicotine is taken into the body, blood sugar rises slightly, giving you increased energy that will soon subside and leave you fatigued and perhaps depressed, fueling the craving for more nicotine. As a vasoconstrictor, nicotine tightens blood vessels and restricts blood flow, causing permanent damage to arteries in the long run. Because both male and female orgasms depend on blood flow, nicotine can affect your sex life.

It only takes seconds for nicotine to reach the brain, but its effects can last for an entire day. Unfortunately, corticosterone, the stress hormone, reduces nicotine’s effectiveness. This means that if you’re stressed you will use more nicotine to feel an impact. As you can imagine, the more you smoke, the higher your tolerance for nicotine, and the more dependent you become on the drug. When forced to go for a long period without smoking you will probably feel irritated and more aggressive. In addition, whether you notice or not, your cognitive functioning will most likely be impaired.

What are the short-term and long-term health risks of smoking?


  • Stained nails and teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Wrinkled, aged skin


  • Lung cancer
  • Emphysema
  • Heart disease
  • Earlier menopause in women
  • Death

Why should I quit smoking?

Tobacco is the number one cause of deaths every year (over 400,000). If you don’t quit now, you’ll have to quit sometime in the near future to avoid serious health complications. Sooner is certainly better than later, not just for your health, but also for your wallet. Fighting nicotine cravings may seem an insurmountable task, but just think about the health benefits your body receives from breathing continuous fresh air. Even after just two days of no smoking, nerve endings start regenerating and your sense of taste is enhanced, letting you enjoy food more. Do your reasons for smoking justify endangering your body? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), three-fourths of young adults who smoke or chew tobacco daily do it because they can’t quit.

By quitting, you reduce your risk of cancer, emphysema, and heart disease; your blood pressure might be lowered; your immune system will become stronger; your lung capacity will increase; and you'll have greater physical strength and endurance. Everyone around you will see physical improvement as you enjoy whiter teeth, clearer skin, fresher breath, and brighter eyes.

How can I help my friend quit?

First it is important to understand that smoking is an issue of addiction and not of will power. In order to quit successfully, smokers need friends and family to support them. You may reduce the psychological stress of quitting by pretending your friend is just “practicing” quitting, and reward her frequently with candy and other favors. This approach will also help prevent you from getting angry or annoyed if you catch your friend with a cigarette, which is unfortunately probable. In fact, most people make at least three attempts to quit before succeeding.

Offer to join your friend in an exercise program, which will increase self-esteem and offset possible weight gain. Help your friend avoid restaurants, bars, and other places that encourage smoking. These social places don’t just encourage smoking by the presence of other smokers, but by reminders of the individual himself smoking at those sites. Remember that smokers who are in the process of quitting often become irritable—do not take this behavior personally. Supportive friends must remain calm and patient to help the smoker overcome the stress and trauma of withdrawal.

What withdrawal symptoms should I expect when quitting?

Physical withdrawal symptoms can include headaches, nausea, difficulty sleeping, and respiratory pain and congestion (as the lungs clear out). Emotionally, you may be irritable and anxious, and suffer from mood swings and depression. Many people smoke because they believe it will help them lose weight; nicotine suppresses the appetite and causes the liver to release glycogen, which raises the blood sugar level slightly. Without the stimulating effects of nicotine, you are likely to feel hungry more often and have a slower metabolism. Additionally, you will begin to enjoy food more as your sense of taste returns. People trying to quit smoking often need a replacement for the oral pleasure of smoking, so think of low calorie items that can keep your mouth busy, such as gum, hard candy, or raw vegetable sticks.


Cigars aren’t as unhealthy as cigarettes, right?

Because smoke from cigars and cigarettes contains the same harmful toxins and carcinogens, the differences in health risks are related to the differences in daily use and level of inhalation. Although cigars are generally bigger than cigarettes, containing more tobacco, the majority of cigar smokers only smoke occasionally and do not inhale. However, even those who do not inhale have an increased risk for mouth cancer.

Technically, the difference between a cigarette and a cigar is based on the outside covering. Cigars are rolls of tobacco covered in a tobacco leaf or substance containing tobacco, while cigarettes are rolls of tobacco wrapped in paper or some other tobacco-free substance. Cigars are generally bigger, sometimes containing as much tobacco as an entire pack of cigarettes. The tobacco leaves used to make cigars are aged and fermented, which causes cigar tobacco to have a different taste and smell than cigarette tobacco.

Someone who smokes the occasional cigar without inhaling may not suffer the health risks associated with smoking a pack of cigarettes everyday, but second-hand smoke from a cigar is more dangerous than that of a cigarette. Because cigars have more tobacco, and burn longer than cigarettes, they give off more environmental tobacco smoke. Additionally, cigar smoke contains higher concentrations of the carcinogens found in cigarette smoke.

Smokeless Tobacco

Is smokeless tobacco a safe alternative to cigarettes?

No, smokeless tobacco pollutes your body with numerous chemicals that cause health problems from gum recession to oral cancer. Tobacco in any form causes cancer and contains nicotine, a highly addictive chemical. People who use smokeless tobacco are several times more likely to develop oral cancer than those who do not use tobacco.

There are two types of spit tobacco: chewing tobacco and snuff. Chewing tobacco comes in loose leaf, plugs, or twists, while snuff is generally powdered tobacco, sold dry or moist (typically in cans). People who chew keep tobacco in their mouths for several hours to get a continuous high from the nicotine. Snuff is “dipped,” meaning a small amount is pinched from the can and placed between the cheek and the gum. Nicotine is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lining of the mouth, resulting in a quick high.

Toxic chemicals in smokeless tobacco, including arsenic and formaldehyde, contribute to cancer of the mouth, leukoplakia (white, leathery patch inside the mouth where skin has been irritated by tobacco juice), heart disease, gum disease, and tooth decay. Spit tobacco permanently discolors teeth, and as the gums recede, teeth will fall out. [


Is smoking pot more dangerous than smoking cigarettes?

The answer to this question depends on the amount of each substance used. It’s also hard to give a straight answer because marijuana contains varying amounts of THC – anywhere from 1% to 8%. When used in equal amounts, marijuana seems to be more harmful than cigarettes, but most pot smokers claim not to smoke as often as cigarette addicts. Here’s some information for you to weigh the risks of each substance:

THC is the active chemical in marijuana. Higher concentrations of THC will cause a greater hallucinogenic effect, and because reproductive cells bind to THC more than other cells, smoking will jeopardize your fertility. THC is fat-soluble, staying in your body (including brain tissue) for up to 3 weeks, though it is not clear what effects it has while it remains.

In lab experiments, THC has been shown to block the immune system’s ability to function properly. This leads to greater risk of illness, infection, and cancer among heavy users. It would be hard to say pot is less dangerous than cigarette smoking because marijuana has 3 times the amount of tar as tobacco, and its carbon monoxide levels are 3-5 times that of cigarettes. Be aware that pot has 50% more cancer-causing hydrocarbons than a tobacco cigarette. Every time you inhale, you’re accepting all of that poison into your body because joints do not have filters. Also, most pot smokers inhale the smoke and hold it in their lungs longer than they would for cigarette smoke.

More research is necessary to learn the true addictive effects of marijuana, but current studies show heavy users will likely experience psychological dependence. Marijuana addiction is not likely to be as intense as the dependence experienced by cigarette smokers. Chronic users build up a tolerance to pot, and they need more and more to get high. Daily users find that their learning, memory, and cognitive skills are weaker than normal; they find it hard to function at their usual level. Experiments on animals that had been chronically exposed to THC resulted in withdrawal symptoms and changes in nerve cells.

Other negative results of smoking pot are that it…

  • Changes the chemical balance in your brain, altering your mood, appetite, ability to concentrate, and energy levels.
  • Lowers testosterone levels in men and upsets the balance of hormones in women that control menstrual cycles.
  • Decreases sperm count and increases sperm abnormalities.
  • Jeopardizes the eggs in women’s ovaries (remember, you are born with the total number of eggs you will have for your lifetime – they are irreplaceable!).
  • Threatens your ability to learn and remember things, leading to forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating.
  • Increases your risk for the same lung problems as cigarette smoking, including emphysema, cancer, frequent chest colds, coughing, and more phlegm production.
  • Leads to anxiety problems, depression, and paranoia.
  • Increases risk for cancer of the throat, lungs, head, and neck.

What are the immediate effects of smoking pot?

  • Relaxation
  • Altered sense of hearing, time, and vision
  • Euphoria
  • Increased heart rate and appetite
  • Dilated pupils
  • Memory impairment
  • Red eyes and swollen eyelids
  • Dry eyes and mouth
  • Loss of coordination, slower reaction time (never drive after smoking pot)
  • Impaired judgment

How addictive is marijuana?

There has been conflicting research linking marijuana and addiction. Although pot has not shown signs of causing severe physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms, associated with drugs like cocaine and heroin, marijuana often causes psychological dependence. This means that the user experiences a psychological need for the drug and its effects in order to function on a daily basis.

If I quit marijuana, will I experience withdrawal symptoms?

The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on the level of your habit, but if you smoke heavily, you are likely to experience psychological withdrawal, such as feeling sick. You may also experience chronic fatigue, headaches, mood changes, and feel depressed or anxious. Other withdrawal symptoms include nervousness, insomnia, loss of appetite, chills, and tremors. Impaired brain functioning can include short-term memory loss and inability to think abstractly.



Commonly called “speed” or “uppers,” amphetamines arouse the central nervous system, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. They were originally introduced as prescription drugs to combat health problems like obesity and narcolepsy, but now most amphetamines are produced and sold illegally. Like other stimulants, amphetamines increase alertness and attention, decrease appetite, and produce a feeling of well-being. Highly addictive, amphetamines can produce physical and psychological dependence. Those who use amphetamines repeatedly, or in high doses, run the risk of nausea, paranoia, restlessness, tremors, dizziness, hyperthermia, and heart failure.

Methamphetamine is one of the stronger forms of this group, and can produce anxiety and hallucinations. It’s popular because it is easily produced in bathrooms and kitchens, is cheaper than cocaine, and produces a high that can last up to eight hours. The drug is mixed with other substances, which may be poisonous, and makes it hard to tell how much methamphetamine the user is really ingesting. It has various street names, depending on the way it is used. When swallowed or sniffed, it’s commonly called “crystal;” when injected it’s called “crank;” and when smoked it’s referred to as “ice” or “glass.”


What is cocaine?

Manufactured from coca leaves, cocaine is an intensely addictive stimulant. While South American populations have used coca leaves for centuries in social and religious settings to ward off hunger and fatigue, cocaine in the US is generally sold as a fine, white, crystalline powder. The coca leaf can be rolled into cigarettes or cigars and smoked, or infused in liquid and consumed like tea. To prepare cocaine for drug trafficking, coca leaves are dried and put in a pit with chemicals designed to extract the cocaine alkaloid.

Once snorted, cocaine affects the brain by blocking the reabsorption of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for movement and pleasure. Increased levels of dopamine overstimulate neurons in the brain, creating a “high.” Within 20 minutes of snorting cocaine, users report feeling a sense of euphoria and power, and a loss of inhibition. The drug usually wears off after about 30 minutes, at which point users complain of an intense “down” feeling, fueling desires to take the drug again.

What are the effects of cocaine?

People use cocaine to experience the immediate euphoric rush, which is accompanied by feelings of confidence, motivation to work, and increased sex drive. However, while the user experiences initial pleasure, the body faces danger by elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate. This stress on your circulatory system could lead to strokes, seizures, headaches, blurred vision, and fever. Cocaine also decreases appetite, promoting malnutrition in the long-term addict.

After the initial pleasurable effects of cocaine, the user will likely suffer paranoia, depression, and irritability. Extended, regular use will cause strong psychological dependence, insomnia, agitation, and depression.

What happens if I take cocaine while drinking?

Mixing alcohol and cocaine can be deadly for a couple of reasons. First of all, you won’t be able to gauge how much you’re drinking because the cocaine masks the depressive effects of alcohol. Once the high wears off, you will immediately feel the alcohol in your system. Second, the alcohol and cocaine create a lethal mix in the liver, cocaethylene. This compound can cause sudden death.


Ecstasy, made up of MDMA, is considered a “designer drug” because its chemical structure is allied to both amphetamines and mescaline. With stimulant and hallucinogenic properties, ecstasy is like a psychedelic amphetamine. Under the influence of ecstasy, users are likely to experience sweating, teeth clenching, nausea, chills, blurred vision, tremors and palpitations. Because ecstasy is a stimulant, it elevates heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. The combination of environmental factors frequently associated with ecstasy (tightly packed crowds, dancing, etc.) and elevated body temperature poses a major risk for dehydration. In fact, it’s not unusual for ecstasy users to die from dehydration. As a hallucinogen, MDMA causes illusions, disorientation, impaired coordination, and confusion. Long-term use of the drug can lead to physical tolerance and psychological addiction, intense depression, and anxiety.

What makes ecstasy even more dangerous is the number of pills sold as ecstasy that are not pure MDMA. These unknown substances can be extremely dangerous, sometimes lethal. Unless you know the ecstasy tablet is pure MDMA, the signs and symptoms associated with its use may not be accurate. Advocating ecstasy as a “feel good” drug, supporters claim it produces intensely positive feelings by eliminating anxiety and encouraging relaxation. Taken orally in tablet or capsule form, its effects last about four to six hours. Someone who overdoses will suffer faintness, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, muscle cramping, panic attacks, and possibly loss of consciousness or seizures. Coming down from a high produced by ecstasy, users report suffering from sleep problems, anxiety, paranoia, and depression.

MDMA elevates mood by increasing serotonin levels. This depletion of the brain’s store of serotonin is what leads to depression after use of ecstasy. Even popping another pill won’t provide immediate relief because there is no serotonin left for the brain to release. MDMA not only affects your mood, but also your intelligence. Research shows that ecstasy damages the parts of the brain used for learning and memory. Even one use can lead to short-term memory loss.


Often prescribed to treat children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Ritalin increases the user’s focus and attention by increasing levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls mood and emotion. It’s a more potent stimulant than caffeine, but not as strong as amphetamines. Ritalin is often stolen and abused for its stimulant effects, which include appetite suppression, wakefulness, increased focus, and euphoria. You may recognize Ritalin use because the drug causes sweating, dry mouth, flushed skin, and a talkative mood. In addition to the symptoms associated with cocaine and amphetamine use, Ritalin may cause nervousness, irritability, insomnia, headaches, and high blood pressure.


“Benzos” are doctor-prescribed drugs used to reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, and induce sleep. There are fifteen benzodiazepines currently marketed in the U.S., most often prescribed in tablet or capsule form. Some examples include Xanax, Valium, and Librium. In general, benzodiazepines act as sedatives in low doses, anti-depressants in moderate doses, and hypnotics in high doses. The drugs are used illegally as “downers” to combat the effects of stimulants such as cocaine, speed, and ecstasy, and to counteract the effects of depressants like heroine and alcohol.

Benzodiazepine users experience forgetfulness, confusion, and drowsiness, so driving or operating heavy machinery under the influence of such drugs is not a good idea. High doses can cause physical addiction. If you’ve used benzos for more than 3 weeks, it’s best to reduce use gradually because withdrawal symptoms can be severe. Such symptoms include anxiety, agitation, insomnia, headaches, sweating, and nausea.


Psilocybin mushrooms, also known as “shrooms,” are hallucinogenic Schedule I drugs, which means they have a high potential for abuse and have no accepted medical purpose. They can be boiled in water to make tea, or added to food to mask the bitter taste. Once ingested, physical effects of psilocybin appear within 20 minutes, and last about 6 hours. Mushrooms produce changes in audio, visual, and tactile senses by disrupting the interaction of nerve cells and the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Large doses cause hallucinations and an inability to distinguish fantasy and reality, sometimes resulting in panic attacks. Other effects may include nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, drowsiness, sweating, and loss of coordination. Shrooms are used at raves and dance clubs, which is odd because the drug tends to make users less inclined to dance. Although there is no evidence of physical addiction among users, it’s possible to build tolerance to psilocybin by using it continuously over a short period of time.

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