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
- Spasms and twitches
- Increased hunger
- Depersonalization and derealization
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.