Smokers May Quit Using Cheap Plant Compound


A new study conducted at New Zealand’s Center for Addiction Research (CAR) at the University of Auckland (UOA) has found that a cheap and naturally occurring plant compound may be useful in helping smokers quit the habit. Center researchers conducted an experiment during which smokers were given either eight weeks of commonly used nicotine replacement therapies in the form of patches and/or gum or lozenges or 25 days of treatment with a substance called cytisine.

More than 1,300 men and women who had phoned a national New Zealand smoking Quitline were randomly assigned to either treatment. The results, which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Dec. 18, 2014, showed that after one month, 31 percent of the people on nicotine replacement therapy said they had not smoked, while 40 percent of the people taking cytisine had not smoked.

CAR lead researcher and associate director Natalie Walker said that cytisine was one of the most affordable smoking cessation medicines available; much cheaper than the other commercially available products, including patches, gums and lozenges. However she added that the product was currently only sold in some eastern and central European countries, adding that it was important for the substance to become more readily available and widely accessible.

Experts reported that as cytisine mimics nicotine, smokers will experience the same satisfaction as they would when smoking a cigarette. Walker explained that the brain sees cytisine as being similar to nicotine, so the urges to smoke are reduced as are the nicotine withdrawal symptoms. She added that anyone who did decide to smoke while using cytisine would find it less satisfying, “making quitting easier.”

Cytisine is an acid-like chemical found in the Golden Rain tree, which grows naturally in China and Korea. It is also found in New Zealand’s small, legume-type Kowhai tree. Although the plant compound cytisine is a cheap alternative that may help smokers quit their habit, the naturally occurring substance is known to have side effects.

Research has suggested that a slightly higher number of cytisine users have experienced side effects than the two out of ten people who have experienced side effects when using the patches, gums and lozenges. Users reported having experienced nausea and sleep disturbances, including bad dreams; however Walker said the effects were minimal.

One supporter of cytisine as a treatment for smokers is Harvard Medical School professor of medicine Dr. Nancy Rigotti. Dr. Rigotti described cytisine as an “old medication,” and supported its use. She said that tobacco was the United States’ most preventable cause of death and added that cytisine needs to become “accessible and affordable to all of the world’s smokers.”

The purpose of the New Zealand study was to assess the effectiveness and safety of cytisine as a nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) compared to “usual care,” the usual care being current readily accessible NRT therapies. Researchers were looking for continued abstinence over a four-week period. All of the study’s participants were also given three 10-15 minute support phone calls during the study period.

The research team believes that the cheap, alternative plant compound cytisine may help smokers to quit their habit. Rigotti noted that the the majority of smokers live in low to middle class countries, and that currently available treatments are financially out of reach for those smokers, adding that the product needs to become a licensed tobacco treatment worldwide.

By Monica Grant

U.S. News
The National Institute for Health Innovation
The New England Journal of Medicine

Photo by melanie cook – Flickr Page

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