French researchers have shown that activating nicotine receptors in mice increases their sensitivity to stress. A mechanism that could be found in humans.
Cigarette breaks and the worries fly away. The image is shared by many and is one of the reasons some people start to smoke. A study, carried out on mice, however, contradicts the idea that cigarettes relax, you can see some ‘cigar reviews‘ for more details. Researchers from the Paris-Seine Neurosciences laboratory (CNRS / Inserm / UPMC) and the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology (CNRS / University of Nice Sophia Antipolis) attempted to assess the impact of social stress in mice by activating or by blocking nicotinic receptors in animals. Result: Signs of social stress are amplified when mice are exposed to nicotine and suppressed when receptors are deactivated.
“If we add nicotine, it only takes one day, instead of ten, and we obtain the same effects in terms of social stress in mice, details Philippe Faure, research director at the CNRS. This suggests that nicotine can potentiate the effects of stress.” Social stress, in this rodent, normally occurs after ten days when it is confronted with aggressive congeners. It is characterized by avoidance of its peers and less attraction to sugars.
“All this allows us to show that the stress pathways are not independent of the nicotinic receptor”, explains Professor Faure. Applied to humans, this would mean that smoking increases the effects of stress. According to the researcher, it is “not obvious” that the mechanisms described with the mouse are identical in humans. If nicotine were to act in the same way in our brain, this could explain our reactions in stressful situations related to social relationships, especially at work. Because this social stress does not manifest itself within the human species by the direct aggression of our fellow human beings, nor by the establishment of a hierarchy with dominants, but rather by a negative look at our place in society.
The problem of the feeling of lack
The solution to feeling good about yourself? Throw your cigarettes in the trash, you could answer. The problem, the lack of nicotine also creates stress, and smoking gives the impression of relaxing when it would be rather the opposite according to the study. The vicious circle will then be self-sustaining since the withdrawal makes it very difficult to quit and the nicotine increases the stress that smoking is supposed to alleviate. In people who use tobacco to manage their anxieties, it will then be necessary to treat the stress generated by nicotine and the effects of withdrawal in parallel.
Those responsible for the study do not yet know whether only social stress, which is only one pathway to stress among many, is influenced by nicotine. They will work to understand, still in mice, to what extent the nicotinic receptor acts on the dopaminergic system. Which is at the origin of many of the attitudes of animals and humans. A source of tension in our relationships with others, smoking could also be the cause of other behavioral disorders.