Quit Cigarettes and Quit Feeling Down and Out

Single cigarette

If you are a smoker or you know someone who smokes then you know that many smokers claim that cigarettes calm them down, improve their mood, and generally allow them to live a more stress free life. The world renowned cancer stick is the devil like that – it firmly plants itself in the individuals brain and convinces them that they need it, that it does make them feel better. Around 42.1 million Americans smoke so there’s bound to be millions who sincerely believe that cigarettes “keep them together”. The question is whether these common anecdotes, many of which you can find online if you look hard enough, hold any sort of weight. Do the constituents of tobacco actually provide mental health benefits when smoked?

The Study Kills the Killer’s Notion

It’s 2014 and so we all know by now that smoking cigarettes is a fast track to the deterioration of an individual’s health. Cigarettes are nicknamed cancer sticks for a reason. They also lead to disease of several vital organs such as the lungs and the heart. It’s a sickening and sad reality for lifelong smokers who can’t seem to kick the habit as many will succumb to serious and fatal health conditions.

Good physical health is something that it not be be ignored and by avoiding tobacco you can save yourself from a world of hurt in your later years. However, one’s mental health must also be in check and taken into account. Ignoring your mental health would be like taking a brand new 2014 BMW M3 through a ride in hell. What good is a body in peak physical condition if a person’s mind is experiencing mental health ailments such as clinical depression, anxiety, mood swings, and so forth?

This is the part that has yet to have been fully realized and that is smoking in relation to a person’s mental health. And if a recent study published in BMJ  is anything to go by then the all too common anecdotes we hear about smoking aren’t anything to go by. Researchers found that all participants in the study, those with and without preexisting mental health issues, experienced an increase in mental health across the board.

Scores for anxiety, depression, positivity, stress and psychological quality of life were all improved upon smoking cessation. In short, they found the exact opposite of what smokers believe to be true when it comes to smoking’s impact on a person’s mental health. So, why is it that so many smokers feel the exact opposite to be true when they attempt to quit cigarettes? The short answer is withdrawal. However, there is certainly a possibility that some smokers actually do experience positive mental health benefits from cigarettes.  There is also an inexpensive way to circumvent the many negative health effects of cigarettes while still experiencing the mental health benefits.

Withdrawal – It Isn’t the Real You

While there may be some who benefit from cigarettes when it comes to their mental health there are many smokers who are unaware that what happens to your mind immediately after quitting isn’t revealing the real you. If you have ever tried to quit smoking cigarettes and found that you were incredibly depressed, anxious, lethargic, unmotivated, unfocused, and so on, you should know that these are symptoms of withdrawal. Yes, much like any other addictive substance on the planet such as heroin or benzodiazepines there are withdrawal symptoms from discontinuing nicotine, the main psychoactive substance found in cigarettes.

Withdrawal happens because your brain gets used to being supplied with nicotine from cigarettes many times a day every day and it doesn’t quite know what to do with itself after it is deprived of nicotine. The constant nicotine supply causes changes in the brain and when you cut it out of the picture it needs to return to how things were before you ever introduced nicotine, something called homeostasis. For the most part when you are reaching for that next cigarette in order to lighten the mood you are actually relieving yourself of withdrawal symptoms. You don’t know what to do with yourself until you get your next fix.

The good news is that nicotine withdrawal symptoms usually peak between 2-3 days. The bad news is that nicotine withdrawal can be rather intense and because of all of the other chemicals and substances in modern tobacco cigarettes (some of which act as MAOI’s) the withdrawal from quitting smoking is actually more unpleasant than that from nicotine alone. One can expect to feel really out of it and generally “off” (sometimes even to the point of derealization). Some other withdrawal symptoms from smoking cessation that are documented in studies and through anecdotal data include:

  • Loss of concentration
  • Loss of focus
  • Loss of motivation
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Spasms and twitches
  • Increased hunger
  • Cravings
  • Fatigue
  • Depersonalization and derealization
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches

The list is extensive and you’ll find that smokers report even more symptoms than this when quitting cigarettes. For some these symptoms can persist past the acute stage of withdrawal. Most will find that within a week or two most of these symptoms will have been abated aside from cravings which can persist for a very long time. If the recent study is anything to go by then you might even start feeling better mentally compared to how you felt while smoking once the withdrawal symptoms have passed.

It’s Been Months and I Still Feel Crappy after Quitting – A Case of Post Acute Withdrawal

Post acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) in relation to quitting smoking is a controversial topic. Post acute withdrawal is most often related to traditional addictive narcotics like opiates, benzodiazepines, alcohol, and amphetamine. There aren’t really any studies documenting cases of PAWS when it comes to individuals ceasing to use cigarettes but you will find anecdotes online of users talking about how they just don’t feel right for some time after quitting tobacco.

You may be suffering from post acute withdrawal if you are still experiencing symptoms after a week. Nicotine withdrawal typically peaks within 2-3 days (acute withdrawal) and then begins to taper off. Nonetheless individuals have discussed experiencing symptoms long after this initial acute withdrawal period. Again, it’s not documented in studies but it also isn’t unheard of and in fact could be quite common considering all ex-smokers don’t take to the internet to discuss their experience with quitting.

The symptoms of post acute withdrawal for nicotine are much like those of acute withdrawal. The most common withdrawal symptoms that people experience past the acute stage are diminished focus and concentration, fatigue, loss of motivation, and depression. Remember, the post acute withdrawal phase is a much less intense version of the acute phase and you won’t experience the overwhelming depersonalization, derealization, and feeling really off kilter that you experience after initially stopping smoking.

The most important thing to remember is that the occurrence of PAWS is not nearly as common as the initial withdrawal phase. If you do think you are experiencing a prolonged version of withdrawal you have the option of riding it out and using coping techniques as it will pass eventually or using an alternative method of consuming nicotine.

Quitting Without Withdrawal Symptoms (I Need Nicotine!)

If you are looking to bypass the withdrawal symptoms of stopping smoking or you truly feel that smoking enhances your mental well being (whether it acts as an anti-depressant or a nootropic for you) but you don’t want to smoke tobacco to get the benefits, there is a safe option. That option would be the electronic cigarette. Electronic cigarettes (e-cig) are gaining a lot of traction these days as they are rather harmless and are able to successfully satisfy the cravings for a real cigarette.

While you will still feel a little off from your transition from traditional cigarettes to e-cigs it won’t be nearly as harsh as completely ceasing tobacco use without any kind of nicotine replacement. Add that to the fact that nicotine on its own has very few adverse health effects and an electronic cigarette will both deliver you nicotine with all its benefits and satisfy your oral fixation, and you have a winner. An e-cig habit is also very cheap compared to a tobacco habit.

You’ll be able to get your nicotine fix, breathe again, not have to worry about disease and cancer, and save money. This is the perfect solution for those who don’t want to suffer the withdrawal effects of quitting smoking or truly enjoy the effects of nicotine. However, there is no reason to use an electronic cigarette if you have already quit smoking cigarettes for some time. There is one thing to be certain of and that is that quitting tobacco cigarettes is one of the best things you can do for yourself, both for your mind and body.

Cognitive Behavorial Therapy as an Alternative to Antipsychotics?

For some individuals with schizophrenia, a mental illness that affects approximately 2.1 million Americans, modern treatment options can be more troubling than the actual symptoms of the illness itself. One of the main classes of drugs used to treat schizophrenia are antipsychotics. Medications that fall under the umbrella of antipsychotics include Risperdal, Seroquel, Geodon, and Abilify among quite a few others (for a comprehensive list of start here). These medications carry nasty and sometimes very serious side effects. However, recent research suggests that for some individuals cognitive behavioral therapy could act as a replacement for such medications.

A Much Milder Option

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is aimed at correcting flawed emotions and thought patterns that a patient might have through talking to a professional such as a psychotherapist. And since one is not ingesting any foreign substance through this process there are no side effects. As a result it’s a great option for individuals with schizophrenia who are hesitant to take pills for their illness.

According to the study, published in The Lancet, it was found that after 18 months (the final assessment) 41% of the 17 who participated in cognitive behavioral therapy showed a minimum of a 50% improvement. For comparison, only 18% of the 17 who did not participate in CBT and only received normal care showed improvement.

The way the researchers measured the improvement of the patients was by using a metric known as the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS). It was first developed in 1987 and it is a way of measuring the severity of the symptoms of schizophrenia. Positive refers to the positive symptoms of schizophrenia which include hallucinations, delusions, and grandiosity. The negative refers to the negative symptoms which include anhedonia, social withdrawal, and emotional withdrawal.

While the study used a small sample size and a much larger size would be needed to draw definitive conclusions this is still a great finding. This isn’t to say that this is the end of the use of antipsychotics in the realm of schizophrenia treatment. This just isn’t true. There will always be those that absolutely require this type of medication for any type of stability much less remission.

For those that could take part in CBT as an alternative this is absolutely astonishing considering the side effects that antipsychotics as a class of medications bring to the table. It’s a sad reality for some that this class of medications can actually worsen some of the symptoms of schizophrenia, namely the negative symptoms.

Paving the Way for CBT

At the very least cognitive behavioral therapy certainly seems to be a very worthy adjunct treatment option for individuals with schizophrenia. CBT has a proven track record and it could very well be what people need. It’s not just a superb option for individuals suffering from schizophrenia but for those suffering from all types of mental illness. This includes (but is not limited to) anxiety disorders, major depression, drug addiction, OCD, and even ADHD.

The only drawback to CBT is the cost. Even if one has health insurance it can still be a burden. The cost is especially disheartening when you consider the fact that around 60-80% of people with mental illness are unemployed. That number is very worrisome. When one can barely afford to breath air, drink clean water, and eat food how will they be able to pay for therapy?

Nonetheless, cognitive behavioral therapy is without a doubt proven to be an effective treatment option for all types of folks. It may not work for everyone but there is a significant chance it will work for a large amount of the population.

New Potential Target for Anxiety Treatment Found


While we all struggle from conventional life anxieties and stresses from time to time a true anxiety disorder can be a determining factor in a lower quality of life at best and entirely crippling at worst. An anxiety problem happens to be quite common in the US. How big of a problem exactly? The National Institute of Mental Health reports that around 40 million Americans, or 18% of the population over the age of 18, suffers from a condition related to anxiety.

So it’s always a good thing to here that scientists are at work successfully finding new potential treatment targets. It turns out that scientists have discovered a new area of the brain that could promote an anxiety response. What’s interesting about this finding is that this specific area was previously thought to dampen the anxiety response in individuals.

The findings, published in the journal Cellspecifically focus on the brain area related to the circuitry responsible for connecting the lateral septum to other brain structures. The scientists’ aim is to further understand how the brain processes anxiety in order to one day develop new anxiety medications that can treat this disorder more effectively than what we have on the market today. There are various modern treatment options for anxiety disorders which include (but are not limited to) SSRI’s, benzodiazepines, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but even in this day and age there are many shortcomings to the available treatment options.

These scientists knew that the lateral septum was activated during anxiety states when experimenting with mice. What they didn’t know was whether this brain area was promoting anxiety or keeping a lid on it and this is exactly what they were out to determine. Through a process called optogenetics the researchers found that the lateral septum was in fact causing anxiety states in mice and that this state persisted even after the activation of this brain area.

The findings were confusing because these brain cells are inhibitory meaning that they “hold back” activity (in this case anxiety) but alas these are scientists and so they found the root of the problem. What they found is that the lateral septum brain cells (inhibitory) actually inhibit neurons to which they are connected to, in this case those of the hypothalamus, which also happen to be inhibitory. The hypothalamus is also connected to the paraventricular nucleus which is responsible for the release of a major stress hormone known as cortisol.

Evidently, when you inhibit and inhibitor you essentially cancel out the inhibitory state. These researchers concluded that since the lateral septum was inhibiting the hypothalamus the hypothalamus could not efficiently keep a lid on the cortisol (stress hormone) produced by the paraventricular nucleus. This is great finding because it is another step in the way of advancing anxiety based medications.

Current drug treatments for anxiety such as SSRI’s (drugs also used to treat depression ex. Zoloft) and benzodiazepines (Xanax) have many pitfalls, namely side effects. SSRI’s only work effectively for a small portion of the population and benzo’s happen to be some of the most highly addictive pills on this planet. What’s even worse is that these drugs have the potential to produce withdrawal upon discontinuation (acute withdrawal) and in the case of benzo’s it can be lethal. There is even a chance that individuals will experience a form of long lasting withdrawal known as post acute withdrawal syndrome with side effects much like the ones an individual was trying to treat in the first place (anxiety, depression, anhedonia, panic attacks, OCD, insomnia, etc.).

If scientists can get a better understanding of what makes anxiety tick through research such as this then sufferers will someday be able to cope with the disorder without having to worry about excessive side effects and potential withdrawal. We are still very far from getting there but with more knowledge we can certainly reach a place where all sufferers of mental illness can raise the quality of their lives.

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