News: Cigarettes and Opioids: A New Solution to the Opioid Epidemic

by Jasmine Bittar |

The Link Between Cigarettes and Opioids

The opioid addiction epidemic has been increasing for many reasons. The prescriptions written for opioids have more than doubled since 2000. It is now the norm to be prescribed and take these drugs. Many even think these drugs are “cool” to take and pressure their peers to feel the euphoric high these medications have to offer. On top of that, manufacturers have been heavily marketing these drugs. However, there may be a new weapon in the fight against opioid addiction: the relationship between cigarettes and opioids.

Cigarettes and opioids act similarly in stimulating the brain and altering its function. When smoked, cigarettes release addictive chemicals that make you feel good. Once the brain detects the drug, it produces natural opioids, as well as an overabundance of dopamine, which is what produces a pleasurable feeling.

So, can smoking cigarettes effect your opioid dependence? A recent six-month study called the Management and Point-of-Care for Tobacco Dependence by The Ottawa Hospital, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, and the University of Ottawa was conducted to find out. The study concluded that a reducing the number of cigarettes smoked a day also reduced a smoker’s dependence on opioids.  Interestingly, 96% of participants smoked cigarettes while only 9% of Ottawa’s general population smoked cigarettes. They wanted to conduct a study to see if they could reduce the use of addiction among the homeless in the area.

The risk for addiction is extremely high among the homeless due to lack of resources for food, shelter, and help with mental issues. They abuse drugs to deal with the daily stress their life of homelessness brings. For six months, the researchers followed around 80 Ottawa residents, giving them support, making them attend regular counseling meetings with a mental health specialist, and providing Nicotine Replacement Therapy (which included a patch, gum, and inhaler). The residents also attended life-skills workshops to support positivity in their futures.

A Pack of Cigarettes Representing The Relationship Between Cigarettes and Opioids

The entire research study helped boost the residents’ confidence and their hope to improve their life for a successful future. This helped the participants mentally and physically so much that there was a drastic decrease in daily cigarettes used. At the beginning of the study, the average participant would smoke about 20 cigarettes a day. By the end of the study, they cut their consumption more than half, by averaging 9 cigarettes per day.

As a result of cutting down on the high number of cigarettes they smoked per day, along with the constant support, results showed there was an 18.8% decrease in the use of opioids among the participants, this included heroine, fentanyl and Oxycotin.

What Another Research Study Concluded

Another study conducted by the University of Michigan studied the effects of smoking cigarettes on the brain and how it affected the flow of opioids.

Participants consisting of six men who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day lied in a PET imaging scanner to have their brain scanned while they smoked cigarettes. What they found was that while the men smoked low-nicotine cigarettes, their brains changed the flow of opioids, compared to smoking regular cigarettes where opioid levels increased.

What was concluded was that nicotine binds to opioid receptors, ensuring the pleasurable feelings and increasing dependency on opioids.

Perhaps not smoking cigarettes would allow time for their brain to produce normal levels of opioids and allow a natural flow of these opioids. This produces a natural feel-good feeling, thus reducing the dependence on cigarettes and prescription opioids.

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