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A Guide to Drugs and the Brain



Drug Effects

Drug Research

Drug Street Names

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Tobacco is a plant grown in the United States that is harvested and processed into cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco and snuff.

Tobacco contains nicotine, a drug that acts on the brain and rapidly produces addiction. Scientists estimate that 90 percent to 95 percent of tobacco users are addicted. Nicotine itself is toxic--high doses can kill, but do so rarely. Its most destructive property is its ability to addict users rapidly. Once addicted, smokers repeatedly expose their brains and bodies to hundreds of toxic chemicals contained in tobacco and tobacco smoke. The list of cancers that tobacco causes is impressive, from cancers of the mouth, head and neck to cancers involving most of the vital organs. Smoking also causes heart disease, emphysema, and other lung diseases. Moreover, cigarette smoke can also harm nonsmokers. Children whose parents smoke suffer higher rates of bronchitis and other lung infections, and nonsmoking spouses of smokers have higher rates of lung cancer than those whose spouses do not smoke. Every year, tobacco kills more than 400,000 Americans. This is more deaths than all Americans killed in World War I, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars combined. Every year the tobacco industry loses 2 million smokers; 80 percent quit, the rest die. The industry recruits teenagers to replace those losses.

Common Street Name
Smokes, cancer sticks, chew, snuff.

Legal Status
In the United States, it is legal to produce tobacco in all forms and sell it to adults, and it is legal for adults to buy and use tobacco. It is illegal to sell tobacco to those under age 18 and illegal for them to buy it. There's a good reason for this law. Research shows the longer we can delay the onset of tobacco use among adolescents, the less likely they are to become addicted to any drug. (The same is true for alcohol.)


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