Health Benefits of Cigar Tobacco - Cigars and Medicine

The Tobacco Leaf – Good or Bad?

Disclaimer: This piece has not been reviewed by a physician and information below may not be accurate. For information on the risks of cigar smoking that has been reviewed by a physician, please see the health hazards associated with cigar smoking.

Is tobacco good for you or bad for you? This is an argument that the tobacco industry has had with the medical profession for years. After the Surgeon General came out with the mandatory posting of statements on all tobacco production this might have ended that argument, in favor of the medical profession --- “smoking MAY be hazardous to your health.” Yes, that is a very true statement, but let's just look at the what that statement is targeted at.
What tobacco product has been literally ‘beat up’ in the Press (and I might add with good reason)….. cigarettes. But what about cigars? The Press has had a field day lately, but I believe that cigars have been targeted without all the facts. I have done a little research into this and have found some interesting facts, which may surprise you.

Tobacco is considered to be a poisonous plant. I know, this does not look like a positive statement but a lot of plant toxins are being used in medicine. The tobacco plant is a member of the nightshade family called Solanaceae. This family includes food group plants such as the potato, tomato, pepper, and eggplant, and various poisonous and medicinal plants such as nightshade, henbane, and Jimson weed and even garden plants like the petunia. There are more than sixty-four species of tobacco. The tobacco plant grows naturally in various parts of North and South America, Australia, a few South Pacific islands, and one species in Namibia, in southwestern Africa.

Many nightshades produce alkaloids of varying toxicity with narcotic or poisonous effects. Nicotine is the alkaloid in tobacco. In its natural form, nicotine is a colorless volatile liquid and alkaline in reaction. This chemical was first isolated in 1807 by Gaspare Cerioli in Italy and Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin a chemistry professor in Paris.
It was called the oil of tobacco. Later in 1822 a well known German chemist extracted the same chemical from tobacco smoke. Hermbstadt named it Nicotianin after Jean Nicot, the consul of the King of France, who first introduced tobacco to Parisians in 1560. Oh, Hermbstadt is best known for his treatise on improved techniques for the distillation of brandy. I wonder if that’s why brandy and cigars go so well together. So, going back to the chemistry of tobacco, what is it that has made this plant so powerfully important for traditional social, religious, ceremonial, and medicinal purposes? It is the nicotine alkaloid. It is that same alkaloid chemical that can, possibly lead to negative effects as well as illnesses and death. Yes, this is a very powerful chemical. But what about just smoking a stogie? Okay, let us look further into our history.

Archaeologists have found a great deal of Prehistoric indirect and direct evidence of the use of tobacco. The presence of pipes at archaeological sites is indirect evidence since, historically, other plants besides tobacco were smoked in pipes. Direct evidence comes from the presence of carbonized tobacco seeds. The oldest records of this type in eastern North America date back to C.E. 100. Evidence of pipes predates this by 1,000 years and ‘Nicotiana rustica’ has been identified at Iowa archaeological sites, the oldest dating to C.E. 550. Nicotiana rustica’ is a very potent form of tobacco called ‘Mapacho’ in South America. The nicotine content is close to 10% while in normal tobacco leaves it ranges between 1% and 3%. This plant is used in preparations of pesticides and has been used in very small doses as a medicine for colon problems among indigenous peoples of South America. Even back in the US ‘Olde’ West, the traveling medicine show picked up this bit of medical trivia and sold tobacco suppositories to cure indigestion, diarrhea, and constipation.

History has records of missionaries, soldiers, travelers, and scholars having written about the use of tobacco by indigenous peoples of the Americas since it was first encountered by Christopher Columbus's expedition of 1492. They learned tobacco's importance was multipurpose: socially, in friendship and war; fertility-promoting in agriculture and courtship; spiritually, to incur trance spirit, consultation, magical curing, and medicine. They also learned it was a powerful plant that, in small doses was able to stimulate as well as depress hunger and thirst, and in large doses to produce visions and trances. Two members of Columbus's crew, Luis de Torres and Rodrigo de Jerez, were the first Europeans to encounter tobacco smoking. Bartolome' de las Casas, a Spanish Dominican priest, wrote about this in his book ‘Historia de las Indias’ in 1527. The book was the personal journal of Christopher Columbus. "These two Christians met many people on the road, men and women, and the men always with a firebrand in their hands, and certain herbs to take their smokes, which are some dry herbs put in a certain leaf, dry also, after the fashion of a musket made of paper, such as boys make on the feast of the Holy Ghost. These are lit at one end, and at the other they chew or suck and take in with their breath that smoke which dulls their flesh and as it were intoxicates and so they say that they do not feel weariness. Those muskets, or whatever we call them, they call tobacos."

Four species of tobacco have been important to the Indians of the Americas. Nicotiana rustica, which mentioned earlier in this article, is a hybrid species believed to have originated in the Andean highlands of Ecuador, Peru, or Bolivia, and arrived in North America possibly through Mexican and Caribbean routes. At the time of Columbus, this highly potent tobacco plant was already being cultivated all throughout South America and North America. The nicotine content of this species is the highest of all tobaccos. Nicotiana tabacum also a hybrid species and believed to have originated in the Bolivian Andes. It was widely cultivated pre-Columbus in eastern South America from Brazil northward and in Colombia, Central America, Mexico, and the West Indies. It was introduced to Virginia in the early 1600’s from the Spanish West Indies. Except for a few instances of ceremonial use, this species eventually replaced the older tobaccos used by Native Americans. It is not known whether it was Nicotiana tabacum or Nicotiana rustica which Columbus and his expedition first saw being used by the Indians.

Nicotiana tabacum is the main species of commercially grown tobacco today. Nicotiana quadrivalvis is a native species of the western North America. It grows wild from southern Oregon to southern California. It was also cultivated by Native North Americans. Lewis and Clark on their expedition up the Missouri River (1804-1805) found this tobacco being grown by the Arikara, Mandan, and Hidatsa Indians of South Dakota and North Dakota. Nicotiana multivalvis is another native tobacco of western North America cultivated by Native Americans. It was an important ceremonial and ritual smoke plant. Its distribution extended from the Pacific coast eastward. Here is a short list of various historical uses of tobacco. Most of these uses were taught to Europeans by the indigenous peoples all around the world that cultivated and used tobacco. Analgesic to alleviate pain, to treat parasitic worms, anticonvulsive, diaphoretic, diuretic, poultice for boils and insect bites, as an emetic, for various dermatological conditions like rashes, to treat colic, for kidney problems, to treat apoplexy, snakebite, toothaches, dizziness, fainting, as an antidote against other type of poisonings, to curb insanity and it was even used to try to cure tuberculosis.

Nicotine is one of the most studied of all drugs. At the beginning of the century, the earliest research into neurotransmitters involved the effects of nicotine. The nicotinic receptor was the first neurotransmitter receptor to be identified. Nicotine mimics the actions of acetylcholine and has been shown to effect many other neurotransmitters. There has been considerable research into the role of nicotine receptors in the central nervous system in human cognitive functioning. The research has revealed an important connection to nicotine and increased brain function. Most medical researchers will not want us to know this obscure fact. Such an example of how tobacco might just help us is to look at Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer’s is characterized by a loss of cholinergic neurons in the basal forebrain with an associated loss of nicotinic receptors. This group of cells is critical both for the regulation of cerebral blood flow and cognitive performance. Clinical studies have shown that intravenous administration of nicotine to non-smoking Alzheimer's patients produces significant improvements in long-term recall and attention span. With this type of positive medical research many companies are excited by the idea of using tobacco to produce pharmaceutical drugs.

This article was just a small bit of information about how tobacco has had a positive effect on our society. I am not saying that smoking a cigar is good for your health. What I am trying to say is that the tobacco plant has much more to offer us than just a cigar.