UWO prof's research could aid nicotine addicts

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Research currently being conducted by a Western professor may lead to a new treatment for nicotine addiction.

Steven Laviolette, assistant professor of anatomy and cell biology, is conducting research which may remove nicotine’s rewarding effects in people’s brains. Though the research is only in its early stages, Laviolette is excited about the possible benefits for people struggling to quit smoking.

“Though we’re only studying the effects on lab rats right now, we’ve already seen interesting results,” Laviolette said.

“When nicotine is absorbed into the body there are different pathways that are affected. Some of these pathways promote a ‘reward’ effect when exposed to nicotine.

“We could establish a pharmalogical intervention, such as a pill, which would inhibit the neural pathway that provides the ‘rewards’ of nicotine. The brain would stop receiving the ‘good’ feeling it gets from smoking and only receive the adverse effects of nicotine, making smoking a lot less enjoyable.”

Laviolette’s research has produced other interesting results.

“Though smoking is initially unpleasant for many, our research suggests that one may be more likely to continue smoking depending on whether their brain is more susceptible to the ‘good’ effects of nicotine consumption,” he said.

Chad Lannon, a fourth-year management and organizational studies student, was skeptical about Laviolette’s research.

“Well, smoking regularly is already bad enough, and taking the treatment might not be awful, but [manipulating] hormonal and chemical stuff like that isn’t the smartest idea,” he said.

Though Health Canada is currently reporting a drop in smokers, there are still over 4.5 million smokers in Canada. According to Health Canada’s website, nicotine addiction is the main reason many smokers can’t quit.

“When a person consumes nicotine, their blood vessels constrict, which increases blood pressure and puts a lot of strain onto the human body,” said Chris Walsh, Western’s campus co-ordinator of Leave the Pack Behind, an organization combating smoking addiction on North American campuses.

When a person attempts to overcome a nicotine addiction, these dangers are still present.

“If an addict is subjected to a withdrawal of nicotine, they will become irritable and anxious, with an increased appetite and a lowered heart rate,” Walsh said. “Ultimately, the best results [for quitting smoking] come from people who look into the psychological reasons behind their smoking habits.

“A person can use a nicotine replacement therapy such as Nicorette or a negative re-enforcement therapy such as Zyban, but those will only help the biological factors affecting smoking addiction. Possessing the will to quit is key.”

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