The betel nut is a seed of the areca palm and is grown throughout India, parts of China and much of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia and most of the Pacific islands. Chewing the betel quid (a mixture of areca nut, spices and slaked lime wrapped in betel vine leaves) has been a cultural tradition in those regions for centuries. In small doses, betel nut creates a sense of euphoria and alertness. But, prolonged use can create addiction and the World Health Organization classifies the betel nut as a carcinogen.
Researchers from the University of Florida Health have now revealed that how the nut's psychoactive chemical works in the brain. They also suggested that an addiction treatment may already exist.
Researcher Roger L. Papke said, "The nut's active ingredient, arecoline, acts on the same receptor proteins in the brain as nicotine. This raises the possibility that prescription drugs now used to break nicotine dependence could also be effective against betel nut addiction. It also raised another intriguing question- If betel nuts and nicotine work on the same receptors in the human brain, could the drugs now used for nicotine addiction be useful for betel nut dependence? Perhaps so."
The study said, "The most effective anti-smoking drugs, varenicline, which is sold under the trade name Chantix, and cytisine, work on receptors that are responsible for creating nicotine addiction. Those same receptors appear to be involved in betel nut addiction, raising the possibility that anti-smoking drugs could help betel nut users."
Papke said, "This is the first time that there's even a potential avenue for treating this dependence, which exists in probably hundreds of millions of people."
The findings are published in PLOS ONE.