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The key thing to note about neuron signals is that they are electrochemical. This means they are based on electricity and chemicals, sort of like a battery. There is only one kind of electricity, but there are many kinds of chemicals. The chemicals involved in neuron signal transmission are called neurotransmitters. Chemicals like acetylcholine, dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine are neurotransmitters. The amounts of these neurotransmitters in your brain at any given time determine how your neurons fire.

In much the same way your car needs certain amounts of oil, coolant, and brake fluid for normal operation, your brain needs the proper amounts of each neurotransmitter. To achieve the proper function, the brain actively regulates neurotransmitter levels for optimal neuron operation. For example, if serotonin levels are too high for too long, which would result in someone being overly happy or hyper, the brain reduces production of serotonin. If serotonin levels are too low, which would result in someone being overly sad or depressed, the brain increases serotonin production. Normal levels of neurotransmitters in the brain result in someone being 'normal'. Abnormal levels of neurotransmitters cause all sorts of mental illness.

This is extremely important: the brain's natural adjustment of neurotransmitter base levels happens very slowly, usually over a period of weeks. There is no “dip-stick” in your brain. Your brain senses neurotransmitter levels by complex chemical reactions that are not instantaneous. It simply takes a few weeks for these base levels to be adjusted. You might think of the brain as mainly managing the 'trend' of the levels, not micro-managing each fluctuation.

When you put nicotine into your body several things happen:

  1. Nicotine, because of it's chemical structure, binds to the fast-acting acetylcholine receptors of the organs controlled by your sympathetic nervous system. This includes the heart, blood vessels, and adrenal glands. This “fools” these organs into thinking they have been triggered by acetylecholine, the mechanism your brain uses in “fight-or-flight” situations to tell your body to get ready for action.

  2. Your organs all go on alert: your heart beats faster, your blood vessels constrict, and your adrenal glands dump norepinephrine into the bloodstream.

  3. The norepinephrine, which is a neurotransmitter (as well as a hormone), arrives at your brain and starts immediately making changes to your brain chemistry.
So, in essence, you have artificially put your body into fight-or-flight mode. Your brain didn't start this mode of operation on it's own accord. It was artificially stimulated by nicotine. The result is an overabundance of norepinephrine in your brain.

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