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The Stimulating Neuroscience Behind Why Nicotine Makes You Poop

Sure, it can be exhilarating, but at the wrong time and wrong place, it can also be a real drag

Ask 100 people where their most ideal place in the universe would be to vape, and 95 percent of them will respond with “on the toilet.” People love to vape in the bathroom, and not just because it’s a place of quiet reprieve with a fan. People love to vape in the bathroom because nicotine makes you poop

But why does nicotine make you poop? 

According to Pankaj Srivastava, an internal medicine specialist in Tennessee, the short answer is that like coffee and cocaine, nicotine is a stimulant, and stimulants make you poop. “When consumed, nicotine gets ingested into the bloodstream and then travels to the brain,” he explains. “That’s where a number of chemicals get released, including dopamine, epinephrine and acetylcholine, all of which have an effect on the digestive system.”

Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure, and epinephrine is responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response. “So when you get both, you’re experiencing a wave of adrenaline, which increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure, and in turn, stimulates the intestines,” Srivastava continues. 

This is essentially the same combination that makes you have to poop in the middle of working out. But nicotine doesn’t stop there. “Nicotine stimulates your body’s nicotinic receptors, resulting in the release of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine,” explains Beth Hawkes, a registered nurse and author in California. “Acetylcholine stimulates the chief neurotransmitter responsible for your body’s entire parasympathetic nervous system, including the contraction of muscles in your intestinal tract.” 

In other words, nicotine speeds up the process in which contents in the intestine reach the rectum, “which is why nicotine will give the feeling of pressure and fullness in the rectum,” she says. 

Not only does nicotine release chemicals in your brain that might make you feel like you need to poop, it also physically makes you poop. And if it stops there, consider yourself lucky. “By increasing the speed of digestion, along with the amount of water secreted by the intestines,” Hawkes says, “[nicotine] often results in diarrhea.” 

So next time you start to think about how cool and sexy Joe Camel looks, just remember his bowels are in overdrive, and his pants are full of diarrhea.