I smoke. For some reason, I've always had this idea that the pleasure of smoking works more or less like this: from the lungs, the nicotine reaches the blood, with which it travels to the brain, and there it does some difficult chemical stuff to make me feel all good. But that's also never made sense to me. I mean, the gratification is instant. I don't even inhale very deeply, and, momentarily, I feel the feeling for which I do the thing. I don't know how fast the blood travels -- I only know it varies -- but it seems impossible for it to travel this fast. Or is it?

Could you explain to me, a non-biologist, how it works?

  • $\begingroup$ May be you just like the smoke smell, like those who like barbeque and smoked products. In many people the smell of smoke increases appetite and the like. $\endgroup$
    – Anixx
    Feb 3, 2014 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Anixx I don't think so because I still need to inhale a substantial amount of the smoke to feel the gratification. When I said that I don't inhale "deeply" I meant that I don't hold the smoke in my lungs for any extended period of time and I don't inhale as much as I could without starting to cough. The smell of cigarette smoke rather makes me crave an inhalation than gratifies me. $\endgroup$
    – ymar
    Feb 3, 2014 at 18:27

1 Answer 1


20-30 seconds is all it takes to reach the brain, then levels continue to increase with a peak at around 15 minutes and normal levels by about 2 hours (hence the craving). Smoking increases your heart rate directly and also indirectly through reducing the oxygen levels in your blood so your body compensates by increasing heart rate as well as makes each beat stronger, so it pumps more blood with each beat. Nicotine itself is really soluble, it goes straight through the lungs (alveoli) because the lungs get an incredible amount of blood (which they need to do their job) so massive surface for the nicotine to go through so enough nicotine gets into the blood and concentrations are really rapidly high enough for you to feel the nicotine. Carrying on from that, the blood rapidly gets back to the heart and around the body with the brain being practically a direct connection away. Consider the classic cyanide capsule death seen often on TV. The reason people seem to lose consciousness within 30 seconds is because they inhale the cyanide.

Nicotine replacement therapy used to stop smoking uses similar mechanisms to give the same speedy delivery of satisfaction without the massive risks of smoking, stopping cravings and really improving one's quality of life.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I agree with all of this, but would add that any instant gratification could be psychological - if you know what's coming you can presumably experience relief. $\endgroup$
    – Alan Boyd
    Feb 5, 2014 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, Alan is absolutely correct. Particularly in nicotine, which activates the dopamine system which is responsible for habits. Psychological reasons are frequently the most important barrier to stopping. Smoking and other drugs like heroin becomes a thrilling ritual. $\endgroup$ Feb 5, 2014 at 21:38

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