In the United States, cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 people each year; it is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the nation. This is truly mind-boggling when the negative consequences resulting from extended cigarette use are known and well studied. I’d say it is a fair assumption, that everyone in the Unites States is aware of the health complications posed by extended cigarette use, for many the complications, such as lung cancer and emphysema, hit a little too close to home. It is hard to find an American who doesn’t know at least one person who smokes or used to smoke.
While cigarette smoking is a common addiction and leading cause of death in the United States, another deadly addiction is sweeping across other parts of the world. In Southeast Asia, as many as 600 million people chew areca (or betel) nuts; the common preparation, referred to as a quid, is prepared by mixing sliced areca nuts, slaked lime, spices, sometimes tobacco, and wrapping it all in leaves from the betel vine. It is so common in some nations, such as Taiwan due
to the feeling of euphoria it induces; it is referred to as the nations “chewing gum”. Its side effects are detrimental; it is causing oral cancer in users up to 20 years after the user’s last chew. The lime that is added is particularly horrible, it causes tons of abrasions on the inside of the mouth, which then allows all of the cancer causing chemicals in the mixture to harm the users. Use of this concoction also causes their saliva and teeth to turn a bright red; so much so that sidewalks are said to be permanently stained red from people spitting the “quid juices”.
This addiction isn’t limited to adults, although most common amongst working class men, women and children also chew the quid (which makes the habit even more alarming). What is worse is the people are unaware that the high rates of oral cancer are linked to the addiction. It is said to be, one of the most popular mind-altering substances in the world, alongside nicotine, alcohol and caffeine.
Both quid chewing and cigarettes are exposing millions to known carcinogens. It is imperative the people of South Asia be educated about the negative health consequences of the popular substance use.
So what is being done to help the millions of people using cigarettes or chewing quid to curb these two addictions? Surprisingly, the research is being done on the two substances simultaneously.
|Arecoline's chemical structure: can it curb the deadly addictions?|
A recent study notes that researchers have found new insight to a possible new drug that could help both smokers and quid chewers quit their deadly habits. There are some drugs currently on the market to help smokers quit, but many of them come with negative side effects. One example is Vareceline, the negative effects happen because the drug targets multiple types of nicotine receptors, not just those involved in the addiction. Papke and Horenstein of the University of Florida have found a possible alternative: arecoline. It is one of the psychoactive alkaloids in the areca nut. It stimulates the same receptors responsible for nicotine addiction, but doesn’t stimulate the receptors associated with the side effects of other drugs. The arecoline analogs that they have synthesized (hey look, a practical use for organic chemistry!) may be able to treat these addictions without side effects. Let’s hope they get the funding they need and get it on the market as soon as possible because these two addictions are killing a staggering number of people each year.
Posted by Jenna Lansbury (B)