Here's a grim statistic: More than 5 million people around the world die from smoking-related illnesses each year. That's roughly a quarter of Florida's population. Dead. Each year.
The financial burden that comes along with these deaths and all those who survive their various bouts of cancer and emphysema and similarly brutal ailments is more than $150 billion.
Paul Kenny, a researcher with The Scripps Research Institute up in Jupiter, thinks he has a way to help cut these numbers down, and the National Institutes of Health just forked over more than $8 million to help him explore his theory.
Kenny's research efforts are focused specifically on smokers who try to quit, but just keep relapsing. Obvious alert: That's not uncommon. According to Scripps, 80 percent of smokers who try kicking the habit end up relapsing.
By blocking a chain of amino acids known as hypocretin-1, Kenny thinks smokers will lose the craving to suck down a bunch of cancer sticks. It has worked in animals, so there's a chance the approach can be modified for humans.
What's interesting about Kenny's approach is that not only did it cut down on nicotine use among animals, it actually made the admittedly awesome "stimulatory effects" of tobacco less rewarding in the test subjects' brains.
But what about all those gums and patches? Or those drugs like Chantix?
Kenny tells New Times that they're effective, but that their "level of effectiveness is very low."
Also, Chantix and similar drugs carry some pretty severe side effects. There are even a few lawsuits involving people who went bananas after taking the drug.
Kenny points out that the hypocretin-1 receptors don't just affect tobacco cravings, but influence our desires for all types of vices, including opiates, cocaine, and binge eating.
The research is in its very early stages, so it's unclear whether any of this will pan out as compounds are developed and tests advance. But anything that leads to a better understanding of addictions and abuse is a worthy venture.
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