Nicotine (How Can a Stimulant be Relaxing)

Based on this post:

I’m not a doctor, nor have I ever been a smoker. So, I have no expertise on this subject and no personal experience with the effects of nicotine.

It’s entirely possible that Cecil has nailed this, and that the ONLY reason smoking a cigarette SEEMS to “relax” people is that it eases the nicotine withdrawal symptoms that were causing the stress in the first place.

BUT… it’s worth noting that many drugs have effects that seem to contradict the facile titles they’re given. For example, when children are hyperactive or show signs of serious ADD, what kinds of drugs are they usually given? Sedatives, to calm them down? No! In general, they’re given stimulants, often amphetamines.

What Doctors prescribe STIMULANTS to calm down hyper kids? Sounds counter-intuitive, if not crazy, right? But it’s true- SOMETIMES, the best way toward mellower behavior is to prescribe drugs that stimulate parts of the brain that CONTROL behavior. Hence, a hyper kid to takes a stimulant may actually chill out.

My questions (again, since I’m neither a doctor NOR a smoker, I don’t know) are:

  1. Does smoking have any relaxing effects for novice smokers, guys who haven’t gotten addicted yet and aren’t subject to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms yet?

  2. Could nicotine have any pleasant, relaxing effects on parts of the brain DESPITE the fact that it’s a stimulant?

I am not a doctor, but I was a smoker for over 20 years so I do have some experience in “smoking to relax”. I think there may be a simpler answer to it than a stimulant being relaxing.
First off, I think part of it is in the persons mind…" I need a cigarette to calm down", the habit.
The second thing I think is happening is, when you are stressed, excited or hyper, your breathing increases. You start breathing in rapid, short breaths. When you smoke, you do the opposite, slow deep breaths and hold it in for a little bit, then long deep exhaling. Its hard to smoke, or at least enjoy smoking, if you are taking short choppy breaths. So I think the smoking helps you calm down by metering your breathing, making you take slow deep breaths. Much like having a hyperventilating person breathe into a paper bag or doing meditating deep breathing to calm down. Another thing happening as you smoke, you are cutting down your oxygen intake because of the chemicals you are breathing in. This could cause a “relaxed” feeling because of less oxygen.

Oh yeah, I definitely remember my first days as a smoker. Back when a pack would last me a week. It was very relaxing. Much more potent that what a smoke gives me today.

I remember my first cigarettes as a teen, which were smoked in the evenings on summer holidays, when I couldn’t have been less stressed, and were definitively relaxing, to the point that I could hardly move for a few minutes after smoking one. I’m afraid that Cecil missed something here (although it is clear that a smoker craving for a cigarette will feel very happy and relaxed after a few puffs). Of course I realize that this column was written before wikipedia, which seems to have some more information on the topic.