In this day and age, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who isn’t aware that smoking is not good for you. In fact, at the current rate, smoking will actually kill 1 billion people in the 21st century (1).
But quitting is not as simple as it sounds. Just ask a smoker.
In the US alone, more people are addicted to nicotine than to any other drug (2). Research even shows that nicotine is as addictive as heroin, amphetamines, cocaine, and alcohol (3).
For people who don’t smoke, the habit can be hard to understand.
Statistics clearly show that close to 35 million American smokers actually want to quit, unfortunately, more than 85 percent of people that try on their own will relapse, and typically within a week (4).
A Powerful Addiction
The power of nicotine on the brain is largely untold.
Like the harder drugs, repeated nicotine use does cause a physiological reaction in the brain. According to Dr. Sharon Hall, a psychology professor at the University of California’s San Francisco medical school, “Heroin addicts say it is easier to give up dope than it is to give up smoking.”
Not only is this a truly frightening thought, but it speaks volumes to how addictive nicotine really is.
Nicotine, like heroin, comes from an alkaloid found in plants. This alkaloid protects the plant by disrupting the neurotransmitters in insects looking for a good meal. Unfortunately, humans have the same neurotransmitters.
Where heroin attaches to your brain’s natural painkilling receptors, nicotine affects different neurotransmitters that involve nerve signals, memory, and various other critical functions. Nicotine also binds to your white blood cells and is carried to most tissues throughout the body.
According to studies, when given intravenously in gradually larger doses, nicotine rates as “highly euphoric,” with dose-response curves similar to those of cocaine, amphetamines, and morphine. “Nicotine was between 5 and 10 times more potent in producing a euphoric effect than cocaine.”
The reason smokers need to smoke all day long, however, is that the euphoric effect is brief as they only inhale tiny amounts of nicotine.
Like heroin and other hard-core drugs, the withdrawal effects from nicotine are harsh so people continue to smoke despite the well-documented and deadly repercussions.
Stop Smoking Naturally With This Sweet Alternative
A plant typically used as a natural sweetener is also a literal lifesaver for smokers that want to quit, but can’t handle the withdrawal effects from nicotine.
Stevia, native to Paraguay, is so potent according to a book published in 1899 that, “. . . even a small piece of the leaf is placed in the mouth, one is amazed by its sweetness. A mere fragment or leaf is enough to sweeten the mouth for an hour.” (5).
While this sweet sensation is widely used to replace sugar, for smokers, it has another powerful property. Stevia can help to block the powerful cravings for nicotine.
Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) found that a key trigger for the “high” smokers crave is actually a result of sugar molecules that act as a “. . . sort of hinge to open a gate in the cell membrane and send the ‘nicotine rush’ nerve signal onward.” (6).
This landmark study solidifies the connection between blood sugar and nicotine cravings and opens the door for natural remedies such as stevia to help smokers finally kick the habit.
Stevia also helps combat other symptoms of withdrawal from smoking such as weight gain. Studies show this powerful herb stimulates insulin secretion by acting directly on pancreatic cells (7).
Stevia decreases the desire for sweets, a typical go-to replacement for smoking, by balancing the body’s blood sugar levels, thus keeping weight gain to a minimum. What is even better is that stevia is safe for people with diabetes or hypoglycemia.
How To Grow Stevia
If you want to quit smoking naturally, you can even grow your own stevia. Keep in mind, however, that stevia is a tender perennial that loves the warm sun and dies back in the colder winter months. If you live in zone 9 or warmer (zone 8 with good protection), the roots of your stevia plant will likely survive the winter, coming back just in time for spring.
Stevia likes to roam so plant your stevia in rows that are between 20 to 24 inches apart, making sure to leave about 18 inches between each plant. Stevia will grow to about 30 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide.
If you are lucky enough to live in a frost-free area, you can actually grow stevia year-round. It will grow into a small shrub you can enjoy any time of the year, although, after two years, it tends to lose some of its potency so make sure to harvest the leaves prior to this.
You can also grow this versatile plant in pots on your balcony in a 10″ to 12″ diameter containers filled with a lightweight growing mix. Place a small amount of mulch on the top to retain the moisture in the shallow root zone. With a properly fertilized container garden, you can get as much stevia as an outdoor garden (8).
Stevia is highly sensitive to cold when it first starts out. It hates too much water and will often die as a result, so make sure not to overwater it and to plant it in an area that has proper drainage. You only need to water it frequently during the hot summer months. If you add a layer of compost or mulch around each individual plant, it will help keep the shallow feeder roots from drying out.
How To Harvest Your Stevia
Come fall, your stevia plant will bloom, producing beautiful white flowers. Trim the flowers off to keep the plant producing as many leaves as possible. Harvest the leaves as late as possible in the fall since the cool autumn weather, coupled with the shorter days, intensifies the sweetness of the plants. You will also need to cover the plants if there is an early frost so you can get another few weeks of leaves out of the plant before it dies back in the winter.
The easiest way to harvest stevia is to cut the branches off with pruning shears before you strip off the leaves. You can even clip the farthest tips of the stems as they contain as much stevioside (the chemical that produces stevia’s sweetness) as the leaves.
How To Store Stevia
Cut whole stems from the plant and then strip the leaves and tender stem tips. Next, place the leaves on a loosely woven fabric or non-metal screen outside to dry on a warm, sunny day. It should only take one nice day to dry the leaves. Don’t leave them out overnight, however, as the morning dew will moisten them again.
You can also use a dehydrator at a low heat (95-120°F) with good air circulation for up to 48 hours. Once dried, you can store the whole stevia leaves for up to a year in airtight containers or plastic bags.
Crumble dried leaves into a powder by pushing them through a fine, mesh screen, or by grinding them in a food processor or coffee grinder. Store any powder in an air-tight container to keep humidity out (9).
How To Use Stevia
For nicotine cravings: just apply a couple of drops of liquid stevia directly on your tongue whenever you feel the desire for a cigarette. This will instantly stop the craving.
To replace sugar: use about 1/8 teaspoon of dried stevia to equal the sweetness of 1 teaspoon of sugar. You can also use fresh leaves during the growing season. Fresh leaves are approximately 1/4 as concentrated as powdered stevia.