The tobacco plant, nicotiana tabacum, has been cultivated, chewed and smoked by the Native Americans since about 6000 B.C., possibly longer. For millennia, tobacco has been an important part of society, and used frequently for ceremonial and medicinal purposes. And yet today, we all know that cigarettes are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year in the US, as they are known to cause cancer, heart disease, lung problems, and more. They are expensive, and they are also heavily addictive- more so than cocaine and heroin.
One of the most active chemicals in tobacco is nicotine, which accounts for about 5% of the tobacco plant by volume. Nicotine is a naturally occurring liquid alkaloid, an organic compound made up of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. One cigarette smoked has about 10 milligrams of nicotine in it.
Nicotine has a profound effect upon many systems of the body, including the brain and the adrenals. In light of the association between cigarette smoking and death, it is surprising that scientists have begun researching nicotine for its potential health benefits.