Damage to Insula Banishes Nicotine Addiction But Chantix Can Make it Easier
First of all, let's know what ‘Insula' is. It is a region on the right and left sides of the brain. The insula supposedly controls conscious urges in human. Studies show that drug addicts who relapse have high-level of insula activity during decision-making tasks.
A question rose when a stroke patient quit smoking, because according to him, his body forgot the urge to smoke. The question “What happens to addictions when there's damage to the insula?” kept haunting Antoine Bechara, PhD, of the universities of Southern California and Iowa until he with Hanna Damasio of USC and other colleagues, compared people who quit smoking after injury to the insula with those who quit after suffering brain damage (that did not include the insula). The study covered all the patients including who had strokes and who did not.
The researchers found that twelve out of 13 patients with damaged insula quit smoking soon after their brain damage. They never started smoking again and found it easy to quit. Moreover after quitting, they never again felt the urge to smoke. In one sentence, they lost their smoking addiction entirely. In patients without insula damage, loss of smoking addiction occurred in only four out of 19 patients. The study proves that that insula plays a role in the feeling that smoking is a bodily need.
Another finding from the same study makes it more promising as an aid to smoking cessation. The researchers suggest that insula damage affects only the learned pleasures without damaging the fundamental urges like desire for food. This is because none of the insula-damaged patients who stopped smoking had lost their desire for food and things like that.
There is another possibility associated with insula-damage; the insula may also control other kinds of addiction like alcohol, drugs etc.
However, no one would like brain surgery as a solution to cigarette smoking or other addictions. But of course, as the researchers suggests, the insula could be a target for new drug treatments. Bechara and colleagues say in a news release that there is a lot of potential for pharmacological developments in this area.
Talking about the possibilities on insula, we can very well relate the phenomenon with Chantix. Varenicline, the main ingredient in Chantix, works absolutely different from other smoking cessation aids. But Chantix does the impossible without damaging any part of the brain; it just targets those brain cells wherein nicotine addiction occurs and works on those cells.
Varenicline is a non-nicotine agent which produces both agonist and antagonist effects on neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors through selective receptor binding. It blocks the ability of nicotine to activate a4ß2 receptors and thus to stimulate the central nervous mesolimbic dopamine system, which is believed to be the neuronal mechanism behind strengthening and rewarding experience when a person smokes (antagonist effect).
With this mechanism, Chantix can lead a smoker out of his nicotine dependence making it easy for him. That is why Chantix is said to be a wonder drug for smoking cessation. After all why damage a brain part when there is a better and easier way, which can assure stop smoking?