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Using Addictive Nuts to Quit Smoking

An addictive nut might relieve tobacco smokers from nicotine addiction, thereby helping them to quite smoking, suggests a new study recently presented at the 253rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

The addictive areca nut that can solve your tobacco addiction problem. Photo credits: Roger Papke.

The addictive areca nuts from Southeast Asia—the answer to quitting tobacco smoking. A team of researchers have discovered a range of compounds from the nut that could assist smokers in giving up the bad habit.

Millions of people from Asia chew areca nuts with betel leaves. Some include tobacco leaves to enhance the experience. This ‘cocktail’ of ingredients, which is known to give euphoria to its users, is regarded as addictive and harmful. However, the new research shows that some compounds derived from the nut can actually be beneficial for tobacco smokers.

How do we use one addictive substance to get rid of another addiction? Lead researcher Roger L. Papke explains that the two addictions share certain attributes—something which the team wanted to use to develop drugs targeting both. This is part of an endeavour that focuses on the analysis of compounds from the areca nuts to concoct new molecules that would ideally be more effective than the current drugs used to give up smoking; the existing drugs come with detrimental side effects, some of which are reported to be sleepwalking and cardiovascular problems, thus making alternatives more and more desirable.

The molecules that Papker and his colleagues are developing are described as being more specific than existing drugs. The latter attach to receptors on brain cells instead of nicotine, and thus reduces the addiction to nicotine. However, these molecules also tend to adhere to other nicotine receptors that do not play any role in addiction, resulting in unpleasant effects. As for the new molecules synthesised by the team, they attach to the receptors involved in addiction only, and they do not target other receptors. Papke says that this should make their compounds more safe to be administered as drugs to patients.

This work is based on a previous work of Papker and co-lead author Nicole A. Horenstein: they had discovered that one of the psychoactive compounds in areca, known as arecoline, would stimulate only the brain cell receptors that were responsible for nicotine addiction, and not other forms of nicotine receptors. So, now the team are creating compounds of similar structures to arecoline. The new compounds also work like arecoline, that is, they target only the addiction receptors and not others.

Horenstein and his colleagues now look forward to testing the new drugs on animals.


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