Addiction to drugs is a big menace in the society. There are many negative effects of addiction such as increased prevalence of cancer, death, increased cost of living due to dependency on drugs, and so on. Nicotine is a chemical compound obtained from tobacco plants. Similarly, caffeine is a chemical compound extracted from coffee, the world's most famous hot drink. Just like several drugs, caffeine and nicotine are chemically addictive. Withdrawal from caffeine or nicotine results in symptoms such as tiredness, headaches, and lack of proper concentration among other symptoms. It is worthwhile to understand that intake, absorption, and transportation of these chemical substances involve a series of chemical processes and reactions. This paper explains the chemistry of addiction of nicotine and caffeine.
Caffeine and nicotine are addictive because they directly affect the brain of humans. Soon after a person takes caffeine or nicotine, the small intestine absorbs these substances and thereafter dissolved into the person's bloodstream. It is prudent to note that caffeine and nicotine are both soluble in fat and water. For this reason, the two are easily dissolved in blood, a water-based solvent. Therefore, the solution of caffeine and nicotine are able to penetrate the brain-blood barrier and gain entry into the brain to generate neurotransmitters and certain hormones that stimulate the body.
The chemical formula of caffeine is C8H10N4O2. It has a density of 1.23g/cm3and a molar mass of 194.19g/mol. It is essential to note that caffeine has a similar structure to adenosine receptor, a naturally present molecule in the brain (Pohanka & Dobes, 2013). Adenosine is a byproduct of numerous cellular processes such as cellular respiration. Notably, a caffeine molecule can precisely fit in the receptor cells for adenosine in the brain. Once fitted, a caffeine molecule locks out adenosine receptor, thereby blocking it from occupying its position in the human brain. According to Andrews and Tehan (2013) the structure of caffeine molecule and adenosine are represented as shown in figure 1and 2.
Figure 1 showing the structure of caffeine
The above structure of a caffeine molecule closely resembles that of an adenosine shown in figure 2 below.
Figure 2 showing the structure of adenosine
Normally, adenosine is responsible for the feeling of tiredness in people. However, consumption of caffeine blocks receptor cells of the body, thus inducing a sense of energy and alertness for a couple of hours. The blocking of adenosine receptors enable the brain to generate its own stimulants, for example, dopamine which causes adrenal gland to produce adrenaline hormone which brings the sense of alertness in people.
Addicts have a changed physical characteristics and brain chemistry that is a bit different from the non-addicts. Over time, the addicts' brain cells grow and produce more adenosine receptors. According to Uddin et al. (2017), this is an attempt of the brain to maintain equilibrium in the wake of numerous onslaught of caffeine. It is worthy to note that during the onslaught of caffeine in the brain, adenosine receptors are plugged. This therefore explains why people who are addicted to coffee drink more coffee as they require more caffeine to block more adenosine receptors generated by their bodies. In addition, this explains why a sudden withdrawal from caffeine by addicts triggers withdrawal effects. The chemistry of withdrawal effect is that the brain usually operates in a singular set of conditions, an artificial inflation of adenosine receptor numbers, which heavily depend on regular caffeine ingestion. Suddenly, when the body is deprived of caffeine, the short-changed brain chemistry develops complexity as it is unable to provide the balance between the caffeine remaining in the body and adenosine receptors of the brain. The ramification for this is the feeling of withdrawal headache (Favrod-Coune & Broers, 2015).
On the other hand, nicotine is a soluble organic compound with the chemical formula of C10H14N2. This organic compound has a density of 1.01 g/.cm3and a molar mass of 162.23 g/mol. It belongs to an alkaloid family and is abundantly found in plants belonging to the nightshade family (Hossain & Salehuddin, 2013). The commonest plant from which nicotine is extracted is the tobacco plant. According to Andrews and Tehan (2013), the structure of nicotine is as shown in figure 3 below.
Figure 3 showing the structure of nicotine
Nicotine becomes addictive through activation of a pathway in the human brain's circuitry. It is prudent to note that the chemical responsible for the craving of nicotine by the body is the dopamine that is the brain generates as a result of the invasion of the brain by nicotine. Every time an individual smoke a cigar, the nicotine molecules dissolve in the blood which then transports them to the brain. It is essential to pinpoint that absorption of nicotine is dependent on pH. In acidic media, nicotine becomes ionized leading to the poor absorption rate across cell membranes.
It is important to note that nicotine remains non-ionized in alkaline media, a condition that makes it easily absorbed across cell membranes. The best absorption rate of nicotine takes place within a pH range of 7.0 to 7.5. In the brain, nicotine stimulates the release of specific neurotransmitters and hormones which act as chemical messengers. An example of these chemical messengers is epinephrine, popularly referred to as adrenaline, which causes heart rate and blood pressure to increase. Furthermore, nicotine causes part of the brain to produce dopamine which causes pleasurable sensations such as a buzz, relief of tension, and relaxation. These pleasurable sensations are usually quick and short-lived. Therefore, for a smoker to continue enjoying pleasurable feelings, one resorts to frequent smoking in a bid to sustain the good feelings. This makes a person to smoke frequently.
In conclusion, caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants that alter the chemical composition pleasurable sensation to users. Unfortunately, these happy moments are of the brain. Both the two substances are soluble organic compounds which easily dissolve in blood, a water-based solvent. Once dissolved, the blood transports these substances to the brain which then initiate the release of various stimulants such as adrenaline, dopamine, and so on. The stimulants produced are short-lived, a condition that necessitates users of these drugs to repeatedly take them in a bid to sustain these sensations. In particular, caffeine generates renewed strength and alertness by blocking off adenosine receptor from occupying its position in the brain. This is possible because both caffeine molecules and adenosine have similar organic structures. On the other hand, nicotine triggers a part of the brain to generate adrenaline hormone which causes a buzz, and relaxation. Since these substances lead to addiction which brings adverse effects to the human body, it is prudent to practice healthy living by avoiding them.
Andrews, S. P., & Tehan, B. (2013). Stabilised G protein-coupled receptors in structure-based drug design: a case study with adenosine A 2A receptor. MedChemComm, 4(1), 52-67.
Favrod-Coune, T., & Broers, B. (2015). Addiction to caffeine and other xanthines. In Textbook of Addiction Treatment: International Perspectives (pp. 437-453). Springer Milan.
Hossain, A. M., & Salehuddin, S. M. (2013). Analytical determination of nicotine in tobacco leaves by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Arabian Journal of Chemistry, 6(3), 275-278.
Pohanka, M., & Dobes, P. (2013). Caffeine inhibits acetylcholinesterase, but not butyrylcholinesterase. International journal of molecular sciences, 14(5), 9873-9882.
Uddin, M. S., Sufian, M. A., Hossain, M. F., Kabir, M. T., Islam, M. T., Rahman, M. M., & Rafe, M. R. (2017). Neuropsychological effects of caffeine: Is caffeine addictive. J Psychol Psychother, 7(295), 2161-0487.
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