Quitting smoking can be a daunting task. Nicotine is an addictive drug, and according to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), nicotine addiction is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the US, with cigarettes behind 90% of cases of lung cancer. Cigarettes contain close to 600 additives and release over 4,000 chemical compounds when burned – 69 of which are known carcinogens. So, if you’ve been looking at quitting, you have the right idea. Many have quit multiple times, only to find themselves with another lit cigarette in their hand. There are different types of smokers: from the one or two cigarettes per day “social” smoker, to the two-pack-a-day 30-year veteran.
Some feel that a psychoactive drug is their only recourse in their attempt to quit. One such pharmaceutical is varenicline (trade name Chantix). Nicotine causes the release of the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) dopamine. The drug is believed to block the brain’s “nicotine receptors” while allowing some dopamine release – all of which apparently reduces cravings. After Chantix was put on the market, reports were received of “serious events,” including depression, agitation, hostility, suicidal ideation, and completed suicide. For this reason, the drug now requires the same BLACK BOX WARNING as antidepressants – the FDA’s most severe warning label.
Others who attempt to quit use the nicotine patch, nicotine gum, electronic (vapor) cigarettes, or resort to other means of keeping their hands busy such as “squeeze balls” or endless fiddling with pencils and paper clips. Any way you cut it, it’s not always an easy proposition. Chief among complaints are the headaches, nervousness, and the effects of psychological addiction – smoking can be part of someone’s way of life. Do natural remedies exist that would ease withdrawal from nicotine and make quitting more manageable? The answer would indeed be holistic – meaning you’d want to address physical, mental, and even spiritual factors. Remedies include:
- Set your goals: Why do you want to quit? Is it for your health? To remove the smell from your breath and your clothing? To set an example for your children? Is it financial? How much money will you save? Perhaps it is all of the above. Also set the positive goals. What will you gain?
- Acupuncture: The ancient Chinese technique can release endorphins – your body’s natural pain relievers.
- Exercise: Through physical exercise, you are engaging yourself in an action other than smoking – also releases endorphins.
- Herbal remedies: These include Ginseng, Butterbur, Lavender, Cayenne, and St. John’s Wort (NOTE: St. John’s Wort is not to be consumed by pregnant or nursing women or children. Always consult the label on herbs and supplements and use as directed.) Such herbs – often taken as a tea – can act as natural analgesics (pain relievers) while also producing a calming effect.
- Tryptophan. Another natural calmer of nerves.
- Calcium and magnesium. Vital for ease of joints and muscles.
- Lifestyle changes. Are there activities that routinely lead you to smoke, such as drinking, going to cocktail parties where you’re standing around for hours, coffee breaks with other smokers? You may need to evaluate these factors and change your routine, at least while you’re withdrawing from nicotine. When it gets tough, refer back to your goals.