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    "When many cures are offered for a disease, it means the disease is not curable" -Anton Chekhov

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    Thursday, September 26, 2002

    Wacky Tobaccy: Andrew Sullivan has been wondering aloud with his readers about the medicinal effects of tobacco (really, the nicotine in tobacco). I’ve touched on this before, but the knowledge that nicotine has potential medical benefits is nothing new. It was that very quality that allowed the weed to gain admittance into European high society in the 16th century. Juan de Cardenas, a Spanish physician, sold Queen Isabella on its inherit worthiness by telling her, “To seek to tell the virtues and greatness of this holy herb, the ailments which can be cured by it, and have been, the evils from which it has saved thousands would be to go on to infinity . . . this precious herb [tobacco] is so general a human need not only for the sick but for the healthy." She bought into it, and the rest, as they say, is history. Even as late as the mid-twentieth century, tobacco was promoted for its beneficial effects on the gastrointestinal system.

    There is a physiological basis to its medicinal effects. The cells in the brain and in the gut have receptors that respond to nicotine. They’re even called nicotinic receptors because nicotine was used to study them before chemists were able to synthesize the biological transmitters in the lab. Recently ,studies have been done to test nicotine's effectiveness in gastroinestinal illnesses such as inflammatory bowel disease and in neurological illness, such as Parkinson's disease. The results as they pertain to nicotine’s effectiveness can be summed up as: “Maybe yes. Maybe no. You know what? We don’t know.”

    The question becomes, is it more effective than the therapy we already have, and is it worth the risks. Nicotine patches make its use as therapy more acceptable, and the studies I mentioned above relied on them, not cigarettes. Smoking tobacco for its potential health benefits, however, can’t be recommended. It’s far more harmful in terms of causing emphysema and lung cancer than it is beneficial.

    OOPS: That wasn't Queen Isabella the sixteenth century physician and tobacco promoter was talking to. I got my queens and promoters mixed up. It was a Frenchman, Nicot,(from whom the word nicotine is derived) who sold Catherine de Medici, the queen of France, on tobacco. It cured her son's migraine headaches, so she promoted it to the court of France and thus to the rest of Europe,since France was the cultural leader of the time.

    posted by Sydney on 9/26/2002 08:22:00 AM 0 comments


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