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Nicotine vs. Cytisine: Comparing Popular Smoking Cessation Aids

Quitting smoking is incredibly difficult. In fact, if you’re a former smoker, or one who’s planning to drop the habit in the  near future, you’ll probably agree that it’s one of the hardest things you could ever do. Of course, it’s all worth it in the end – smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide. By quitting, you’re doing a giant favour to your present and future self. 

Nowadays, going cold turkey isn’t the only way to get rid of your cigarette habit once and for all. There are plenty of smoking cessation aids out there that can make your journey a whole lot easier. Cytisine is one of them. It has long been praised as the most effective quitting aid, but is it an overall better choice than nicotine replacement products? That’s what we’ve set out to find out in this article. 

What Is Cytisine? 

Cytisine is a plant-based alkaloid that is found in a number of plants, primarily Cytisus or Laburnum, both of which belong to the Fabaceae plant family. Used by Eastern European countries for decades, this natural substance has slowly been gaining global recognition as a smoking cessation aid. Unlike nicotine, which is derived from the tobacco plant, cytisine is non-addictive, and therefore considered by many to be a safer alternative. 

How Cytisine Helps Smokers Quit 

The “magic” of cytisine lies in its ability to mimic the effects of nicotine in the human body. Structurally similar to nicotine, when cytisine is consumed, it attaches to the same brain receptors that nicotine binds onto – the so-called “nicotine acetylcholine receptors”. By occupying these receptors, cytisine replicates the sensation of smoking, thereby reducing the physical and emotional cravings associated with quitting smoking while negating the addictive properties of nicotine itself.

Essentially, it provides a “soft landing” for your brain’s built-up nicotine reliance. Instead of going from regular nicotine stimulation to none at all—which can trigger intense withdrawal symptoms—your brain continues to receive similar signals, only this time they’re coming from a non-addictive source. This method is referred to as substitution therapy—a tactic that has been used effectively in substance dependence treatment for years.

Cytisine Side Effects 

While cytisine is certainly very effective in helping smokers ditch their habits, it does come with certain side effects that might prove to be too much to handle for some people. When you start a cytisine therapy, you need to be prepared for all the difficulties that lay ahead, if you want to come out on the other side as a happier and healthier person. The side effects that could potentially be the most disruptive to your life include: 

  • Increased appetite: When on cytisine, you might find that you get hungrier much more often than you normally would. A cytisine therapy will require plenty of discipline and effort if you want to avoid gaining excess weight as you wean off of nicotine. 
  • Vivid dreams and nightmares: While you might think that having the odd scary dream every now and then is not that big of a deal, daily nightmares over the course of the recommended 25-day dosing period can have a significant impact on your sleep quality. This can then detrimentally affect your work performance and personal relationships. 
  • Irritability: This is one of the nicotine withdrawal symptoms that cytisine doesn’t really help with. During your dosing period, you’re likely to become angry and irritated in situations where you would normally remain calm. 

But cytisine is not all about nightmares and insatiable hunger. As we already mentioned multiple times, this alkaloid effectively combats the urge to reach for a cigarette. If you’ve been trying to quit using numerous other methods with no success, then you might want to give cytisine a shot. 

Nicotine vs. Cytisine For Smoking Cessation

For all its effectiveness, does cytisine actually outshine nicotine replacement as a smoking cessation aid? The answer to this question isn’t as clear-cut as one might think. Sure, with cytisine, you’re essentially cutting yourself off from nicotine, which is the main culprit behind your smoking addiction. Quitting aids that contain nicotine may help you stop using cigarettes, but they still keep you hooked on their key addictive component. 

On the flip side, sticking to nicotine as you quit smoking comes with less unpleasant side effects. It won’t disturb your sleep routine, nor will you experience the spike in appetite that’s associated with the cytisine therapy. Finally, irritability won’t be an issue – you’ll keep consuming nicotine, avoiding this withdrawal symptom. 

Ingestion Methods 

While there are plenty of ways to quit smoking using nicotine products, such as vaping, heated tobacco devices, or chewing gum, cytisine is a pharmaceutical drug that’s usually only available in the form of tablets. 

Is One “Better” Than the Other? 

It is difficult to say whether or not cytisine is necessarily “better” than nicotine for smokers who wish to quit. While it will completely remove the use of nicotine from your life, a cytisine therapy comes with a number of side effects that may prove to be a significant disruption to your life. 

Finally, cytisine only comes in pill form. Many smokers are very attached to their daily rituals that involve cigarettes. Smoking alternatives, such as vapes or heated tobacco devices allow them to retain these rituals, all the while staying away from tobacco and its harmful effects. If you’re one of such smokers, you might not find what you’re looking for in cytisine tablets. 

The Bottom Line 

Ultimately, it is up to the individual to decide on the best quitting aid for their particular needs and preferences. Some people are less sensitive to nightmares or can deal with increased appetite better than others – if you feel like removing nicotine from your life is worth dealing with these side effects, cytisine might just be the alkaloid for you. If, on the other hand, you want to gradually wean yourself off nicotine, going with the nicotine replacement methods would be the better option. 

At NEAFS, we offer smokers yet another alternative. Using the same technology as heated tobacco companies, we’ve come up with the TEO device – a tobacco-free, reduced harm way to enjoy your smoke breaks. Our heated cigarette sticks are made using premium tea extracts, and come in a number of different flavours. With 1.5% nicotine and nicotine-free variants to choose from, NEAFS will accompany you every step of your quitting journey! 

References 

  1. https://www.drugs.com/npp/cytisine.html
  2. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmoa1407764 
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fast_facts/diseases-and-death.html 
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