6.10Acute effects of nicotine on the body

Last updated: January 2018

Suggested citation: Christensen, D. 6.10 Acute effects of nicotine on the body. In Scollo, MM and Winstanley, MH [editors]. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2018. Available from http://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-6-addiction/6-10-acute-effects-of-nicotine-on-the-body

Nicotine causes an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, cardiac contractions,1 release of adrenaline, and increases in the activity of the gastrointestinal tract.2 The stimulation of the heart typically dilates coronary arteries resulting in more blood flow to the heart. However, if arteries are unable to sufficiently dilate, the lack of blood flow and oxygen will put additional stress on the heart’s functioning, increasing the likelihood of heart pain or a heart attack.2

Nicotine can also reduce the activity of some nerves, resulting in a decrease in muscle tone and some relaxation effects.2 Nicotine also stimulates the brain stem and the stomach resulting in sensations of nausea and vomiting; however, tolerance is quickly developed.2 Nicotine increases energy expenditure and can reduce appetite, although heavy smokers report greater weight than lighter or non-smokers, possibly reflecting the additional health risks from weight gain.3 Nicotine is thought to alter taste bud sensitivities, and for those with reduced nicotine tolerance it can have laxative effects.2


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1. McKim W and Hancock S, Drugs and behaviour: An introduction to behavioural pharamacology.  7th ed New York: Pearson; 2013.

2. Advocat C, Comaty J, and Julien R, Julien’s primer of drug action.  13th ed New York: Worth Publishers; 2014. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/nlmcatalog/101666863.

3. Chiolero A, Faeh D, Paccaud F, and Cornuz J. Consequences of smoking for body weight, body fat distribution, and insulin resistance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008; 87(4):801–9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18400700