10 Things You Didn’t Know About Nicotine

Nicotine, a chemical most commonly found in the plants of the Solanaceae family, is an alkaloid and is found accumulated in the leaves of these plants, though the biosynthesis of this chemical occurs in the roots of the plants. Nicotine is one of the major components of addictive plants like tobacco (0.6%-3.0%) and is the reason behind their addiction in humans due to its psychoactive nature.

The follow are 10 interesting facts about nicotine.

1. Etymology

The name nicotine comes from the scientific name of the tobacco plant Nicotiana tabacum. The scientific name of the tobacco plant is itself named the French ambassador to Portugal Jean Nicot de Villemain. Villeman is credited for sending tobacco seeds and plant saplings to Paris in 1560 for its use in medicinal purposes.

2. Extraction

Nicotine was first extracted from the tobacco plant by German physician Dr. Wilhelm Heinrich Posselt and chemist Karl Ludwig Reimann in 1828. After its discovery Posselt and Reimann labelled it as a poison. In fact nicotine is an antiherbivore chemical, which causes addiction when consumed in small amounts (1mg or less) and death if taken in high amounts (30mg-60mg).

3. Chemistry

Nicotine is an alkaloid with the chemical formula C10H14N2. Its IUPAC name is 3[{2,5}-1-methylpyrrolidin-2-yl]pyridine. It has a molecular mass of 162.12g/mol. Nicotine is a hygroscopic liquid which is miscible with water as a nitrogenous base. Its density is 1.01g/cm3, melting point -79oC and boiling point 247oC. The nicotine molecule has a half life of 2 hours and its metabolism is hepatic. Nicotine is also optically active and has two enantiomeric forms.

4. Nicotine as an insecticide

As already said nicotine is an antiherbivore drug which if taken in large amounts is fatal to life forms. That is why nicotine laden tobacco has been used as an insecticide even before the World War II. But after the WWII its usage drastically lowered due to the availability of cheap synthetic insecticides which are more readily available than tobacco and less harmful to mammals. But in the recent times the hype surrounding organic farming has again increased the interest of the farmers in the use of tobacco as a pesticide as an alternate to chemical pesticides.

5. Nicotine addiction

Our central nervous system has certain nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. Nicotine binds to several of these and increases the amount of several neurotransmitters. Among these neurotransmitters dopamine is one such neurotransmitter which is significantly increased during nicotine use and is responsible for the sense of euphoria and relaxation caused by the use of tobacco (nicotine) products.

6. Psychoactive effects of nicotine

Nicotine is a psychoactive substance as it is mood altering. It causes both euphoria and relaxation. In the body nicotine is metabolised in the liver. First after its metabolism nicotine results in the release of glucose from the liver and epinephrine from the adrenal medulla. This sudden release of glucose and epinephrine causes euphoria after the intake of nicotine. After the initial euphoria nicotine leads to relaxation, increased alertness and sharpness by working on different neurotransmitters of the body. Nicotine also has pain relieving properties.

7. Side effects of nicotine intake

Tough it seems like nicotine is an excellent substance to increase one’s sharpness, induce calmness and elevate one’s mood there are more negative aspects of nicotine intake than positive. Among these the most common side effects of nicotine intake are an increased risk of hypertension and heart attacks. It is sad that every cigarette that a man smokes reduces his life span by 14 years. Moreover since nicotine has been found to affect the working of Estrogen on hippocampus, hence in the long run nicotine users are prone to amnesia and other related diseases.

8. Toxicity

Nicotine is considered to be more toxic than most common drugs like heroin and cocaine. More harm is done by nicotine to the human body because it is readily absorbed by the bloodstream and reaches the brain through the lungs within 7 seconds of its intake either orally or as nicotine patches.

9. Use of nicotine in medical science

Though nicotine is not a doctor’s best friend, it is yet not his worst foe. Nicotine known for its pain relieving properties is being researched upon to be used as a potential pain killer minus its harmful effects. Nicotine has also been found to reduce preeclampsia, allergic asthma; among others by acting as an anti-inflammatory agent.

10. Nicotine in literature

Nicotine has been personified in popular literature as Nick O’ Teen, a humanoid villainous character in Superman comics which was created as a part of anti-nicotine drive to educate children about the ill-effects of nicotine intake in any form.

Orchid History: A Fascinating Story

Question: What holds the record for the oldest plant pollen? Oh, you would be surprised to know that your beloved exotic orchid has evidence of existence dating up to 80 million years back! Just imagine that tamed beauty in your garden has been around almost as old as time. To have the orchid withstood the test of time speaks not only of its beauty but of its resilience.

Orchid history is an intricate as some of its species. It wasn’t until Confucius called orchids the “King of Fragrant Plants” though, that orchids found its way to written literature and from then on, the orchid means a lot of things to the Chinese-feminity, nobleness and elegance, perfection, numerous offspring and retirement,among others.

From Confucius’ works, orchids can be found on Greeks writing around 350 BC. The etymology of the word comes from the Greeks. “orchis” is a reference to the word testicle in Greek. The Greeks, too, like the Chinese, regard orchids with reproductive system stimulation. This brings to mind a myth in Japan where it is told that the Emperor’s barren wife snuffled an orchid’s scent and eventually gave birth to more than a dozen children. This was such a famous tale in Japan that fortunes were amassed by orchid sale.

In Europe, Cortez was said to have brought it home after his adventure in Mexico. He was looking for gold and found himself offered a drink flavored with vanilla. This was extracted from the orchid Vanilla Panifolia. The Aztecs of Mexico used this not only as flavoring but also as aphrodisiac, perfume and as medicine. Up to this day, vanilla is still used as flavoring and medicine, and is grown the world over.

The Arab countries, too, contribute to orchid history. In Arabia, “Sahlep”, made from dried orchid tubers, is a popular drink while in Turkey; salep is used as beverage and ice cream flavoring.

The mention of orchid, came a little late for English medical literature and it was only in the 1700s that orchid gained its popularity in Great Britain when exports from China and the West Indies flooded in. Most orchids were grown at the Royal Botanical Gardens to copy the environment from where they originated.

I’m sure you have heard of the Cattleya. This is named after William Cattley who made it possible for the orchids to flourish outside the Botanical Garden. Cattley was a wealthy man who made a difference in raising orchids with his money and for a while, orchids were known to be a “rich’s man’s plant”. Orchid history has come a long way. Today there are more than 10,000 hybrids. From being just a rich man’s plant, the orchid is now available for everyone to enjoy.