Published February 2008
I’ve been a smoker for 37 years, since the age of 17. My fianceé says she won’t marry me until I stop smoking. She mentioned Chantix, a new drug her uncle used successfully. I’m willing to try this, but scared of side effects like baldness or loss of sex drive.
W.P., Sanibel, Florida
ANSWER: Baldness? Don’t worry. Low sex drive? This is much more common with smoking cigarettes than with Pfizer’s new blockbuster ‘smoking’ pill, Chantix. The drug offers out-standing benefits for people who want to quit smoking, and possibly drinking. But safety issues have come up. Approved in 2006, the FDA is now investigating reports that Chantix causes suicidal thoughts and unpredictable aggressive behavior.
In September, the singer Carter Albrecht of the band, New Bo-hemians, made headlines when his girlfriend reported that he had been behaving strangely before his shooting death and had just begun taking Chantix. Reports claim that he had more than three times the legal limit of alcohol in his bloodstream at the time of his death. Forget Chantix. That much alcohol can cause bizarre behavior in and of itself. So can nicotine withdrawal.
When medications are sensationalized on TV, it prompts more people to report their own side effects, hence the FDA’s current investigation. Clinical trials only revealed adverse effects such as headache, upset stomach, insomnia, abnormal dreams, and abnormal taste perception.
Chantix works in a fascinating way. When you smoke, nicotine gets in your brain cells and makes them release dopamine, your feelin’ good hormone. When you take Chantix, it goes to the same brain cells and sits at the doorway, where nicotine would normally fit in, fooling your body by producing some mild nico-tine-like effects. This eases nicotine withdrawal symptoms (nausea, crankiness, headache, insomnia and fatigue). Because Chantix blocks the cell’s doorway, it blunts the pleasurable ef-fects of nicotine if you have a breakdown and resume smoking. Because the ‘smoking’ pill affects dopamine, it could easily spark mild psychiatric changes such as anxiety, irritability, restlessness or agitation. But suicide? We’re not sure yet. Smoking on the other hand, could easily qualify as slow suicide by definition.
It’s best to quit without drug intervention, but this is easier said than done. Cigarettes are powerfully addictive. In addition to nicotine, carbon monoxide – a very dangerous gas – is present in smoke. This combination of chemicals strains the heart and har-dens the arteries and increasing risk for cancer, emphysema, stroke and heart disease. If Chantix (or the other ‘smoking’ pill called Zyban) motivates any of the 44.5 million adults in the United States to quit smoking, it’s worth a try…unless you have a history of seizures, psychiatric disturbances, depression or ag-gression. Of course, your fiancée should be on lookout for any weird behavior (except vacuuming, washing dishes or sweeping, which are all acceptable). Consider Chantix or any other method to stop smoking because innocent spouses and children are also affected by your choices.
Did You Know?
Cigarette smoke is a drug mugger of vitamin A, C, E and others.