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Quitting your vape? Researchers hope this plant will help

Scientists in Boston hope the plant-based drug 'Cytisinicline' can help nicotine users ween off their vapes while reducing withdrawal symptoms.

BOSTON — According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 5.6 million American adults vape use an electronic device to inhale nicotine and flavored vapors. Much like cigarette smoking, for some, vaping may become a habit that is tough to quit. 

But now, researchers are conducting a clinical trial of a plant-based product that has been tested on cigarette smokers to see if it helps people hooked on vaping.

Michael Werner was a college student when he started vaping almost every hour. Werner found himself quickly addicted to the nicotine but hated how vaping made him feel.

“It makes it hard to really fully be in the moment unless you're using your device in that moment,” Werner said.

Dr. Nancy Rigotti is the Director of the Tobacco Research and Treatment unit at Mass. General Hospital. After years of tobacco use being on the decline, one in 10 young adults aged 18 to 24 now vape.

“Some of them are able to quit, but a lot of them are having trouble," Rigotti said. 

She and her colleagues use text messaging, behavioral counseling, and medications to help young adults who want to quit nicotine. Now, they are testing a medicine called Cytisinicline made from a plant by the same name.

“The drug itself is very similar to one of our smoking cessation medicines that's called Varenicline or Chantix. So, it has a similar effect, but it has fewer side effects, is what we're seeing,” Rigotti said.

Cytisinicline is thought to block the rush from nicotine and reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Werner finally quit by weaning himself from his vape. He works now as a clinical research coordinator helping others kick the nicotine habit.

“I've spoken with a lot of folks who are in recovery from drugs and alcohol, and they will tell me time and time again, this is the hardest drug to quit," he said. 

Researchers are hoping after clinical trials, they’ll have one more option for vapers trying to quit.

Rigotti says Cytisinicline has been tested in cigarette smokers, and a series of trials show it is effective in helping quit nicotine. For that reason, she says the drug may be closer to FDA approval for cigarette cessation than vape cessation. 

She says the side effects include some nausea, headache, and vivid dreams, but most people who have taken it have tolerated it. According to Rigotti, the drug has been available in eastern Europe for years for smoking cessation, but not in the U.S.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Shelby Kluver at shelby.kluver@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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