This Is My Brain on Nicotine.

After seven nonsmoking years, last week I fell off the wagon. Never mind why. It was a bad week. The point is, I bought a pack of cigarettes and smoked them slowly, at a rate of two or three a day.

Now that I am out of cigarettes, I am the proud owner of a pack of Nicorette gum. Here is what I have learned from my experiment:

1. After one or two puffs -- almost nothing-- smoking feels wonderful. I feel calm, alert, steady, confident, and energetic. The psychic ache with which I am usually afflicted -- we all have our crosses to bear, as my mother would say -- is gone. Poof. Nada. I barely remember it. Provided there are no new assaults to my psychic equilibrium, which is never a safe assumption, the effect will last up to eight hours.

2. Halfway through the cigarette, I feel distinctly nauseated. I know from experience that if I continue to smoke, the nausea will recede. However, I also know that stubbing out the cigarette at the point of nausea, which I what I did last week, will make breaking the habit easier later on. Nausea is my friend.

3. My lungs feel cruddy when I smoke. My skin is dry and will get worse. I'm chillier, no doubt due to worsening circulation. After one week, I have already developed a minor, but irritating cough that will only get worse in time. All of which reminds me of how much I really do dislike smoking.

4. Nicorette tastes awful. However, after about two seconds in my mouth, I get the same feeling as in #1. Some minutes later, the nausea arrives so I spit out the gum, for the same reason given in #2. The last thing I need is an addiction to Nicorette.

5. Years ago, I was on Wellbutrin for depression, which had an interesting side effect: I stopped smoking cold turkey after two weeks on the drug and stayed quit for almost two years. This isn't surprising because Wellbutrin is the same as Zyban, the stop-smoking pill. After two weeks on Wellbutrin, I was free of the need for nicotine; I don't recall if the psychic ache was also gone, but I think it was.

This makes me think I now have three ways to deal with that ache: cigarettes, Nicorette, and Wellbutrin.

Cigarettes have too many side effects -- painful death from cancer among them -- to be really useful in the long term. Wellbutrin might be good, except that it, too, has side effects that include dependency on a medical professional, and health insurance to pay said professional, for supply. Nicorette is available OTC, with a reasonable side effect profile and a clear mechanism of action. And I can control the dose very precisely, by only taking it when I need it and spitting it out as soon as the nausea hits.