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Every year, cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths in the United States. That’s more than Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, and firearm-related incidents combined. Smoking can cause various kinds of cancers, including lung, throat, mouth, esophageal, liver, kidney, breast, and colorectal. It also increases the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, diabetes, and more. It’s no wonder, then, that scientists are constantly looking for new ways to help people quit or at least lessen their consumption.

Researchers at Washington State University recently created more than a dozen candidate drugs, or drugs with a strong therapeutic potential, that could help lessen smokers’ cravings for nicotine. Candidate drugs have been optimized and run through a variety of tests but have not yet begun clinical trials. Nicotine is the addictive substance found in all tobacco products. There has been research showing that nicotine is as addictive as heroin, cocaine, or alcohol, which explains while people find it so hard to quit smoking. There are also withdrawal symptoms if you stop ingesting nicotine, such as irritability, cravings, depression, anxiety, cognitive and attention deficits, sleep disturbances, and increased appetite.

These new drugs work by slowing how nicotine is broken down in the body. According to the findings, published in the July issue of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, they target a liver enzyme called CYP2A6, which controls the speed at which nicotine is metabolized in the body. Back in 2000, researchers from the University of Toronto found that blocking the activity of the CYP2A6 enzyme could help smokers decrease the amount of smoke they inhaled by about 30 percent. You only feel the effects of a cigarette as long as the nicotine is in your blood. The CYP2A6 enzyme converts nicotine into cotinine, which the body then excretes, and the level of nicotine in the body falls, leading the smoker to crave another cigarette. People who have fewer copies of the gene for CYP2A6 tend to smoke less and are less likely to be addicted to smoking.

Nicotine triggers the release of dopamine and serotonin, which are chemicals involved in the feelings of pleasure and reward. As the nicotine is metabolized, however, the withdrawal symptoms hit, and people either reach for another cigarette or suffer through the effects. These new candidate drugs – which are really molecules that bind to CYP2A6 and inhibit its ability to metabolize nicotine – are meant to target those withdrawal symptoms, drawing out the amount of time between your last cigarette and the onset of all the unpleasant facets of withdrawal. So far, the number of potential drugs is at 18, but the FDA will have to verify their safety before allowing any clinical trials to take place in humans.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.