Remember people, it's just another plant! They're the ones making a big deal out of it where none exists
Nicotine could soon be rehabilitated as a treatment for schizophrenia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, as well as hyperactivity disorders.

Research shows that the chemical that has addicted millions to smoking has a powerful impact on brain activity in patients who suffer from psychiatric and degenerative disorders.

Some experiments have shown that nicotine can slow down the onset of Parkinson's symptoms; others have had revealed its power in curtailing the hallucinations of schizophrenics.

'A whole range of psychiatric conditions seem to be helped by nicotine,' said Dr Dan McGehee, a neurobiologist at the University of Chicago. 'However, such benefits do not justify smoking. The lethal effects of cigarettes far outweigh any help they provide. On the other hand, our research does suggest that derivatives of nicotine, administered medically, could help to alleviate a range of psychiatric problems.'

Nicotine is known to switch on receptors on the surface of cells in certain parts of the brain, causing these neurones to release the neuro-transmitter dopamine, a chemical that is associated with feelings of pleasure. This effect leads to a person's addiction.

'A whole range of psychiatric conditions seem to be helped by nicotine,' said Dr Dan McGehee, a neurobiologist at the University of Chicago. 'However, such benefits do not justify smoking. The lethal effects of cigarettes far outweigh any help they provide. On the other hand, our research does suggest that derivatives of nicotine, administered medically, could help to alleviate a range of psychiatric problems.'

Nicotine is known to switch on receptors on the surface of cells in certain parts of the brain, causing these neurones to release the neuro-transmitter dopamine, a chemical that is associated with feelings of pleasure. This effect leads to a person's addiction.

More than 50 per cent of people suffering from clinical depression smoke, while the figure rises to 95 per cent for schizophrenics. But smoking among the general public has dropped to about 25 per cent. 'The assumption is that people with psychiatric conditions are self-medicating,' said McGehee. 'They are smoking because the nicotine in particularly helpful in alleviating their condition.'

This point is backed by Dr Tony George, of Yale University. 'Smoking is a marker for psychopathology,' he states in the current issue of the journal Nature Medicine.

Similarly, it has been found that nicotine can sometimes slow the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson's, a disease caused by the slow destruction of certain types of brain cells.

'Either nicotine stimulates other types of brain cells to compensate for the loss of the cells involved in Parkinson's, or it is somehow providing protection to remaining healthy Parkinson's cells,' said McGehee. 'Either way, the effect is noticeable.'