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Leading nicotine researcher, from Old Tiburon, reflects on five decades of work

University of California at San Francisco clinical pharmacologist and Old Tiburon resident Neal Benowitz has become the preeminent name in nicotine-addiction research, having begun his work in the 1970s. (via Neal Benowitz)

Neal Benowitz’s latest research project as a clinical pharmacologist with the University of California at San Francisco looks at how three types of nicotine — synthetic, natural and a 50-50 mix — affect the metabolism, cardiovascular system, withdrawal cravings and enjoyment of electronic cigarette users.


Nicotine has two different stereoisomers, he explains, or two different ways the molecule can be constructed. One configuration, S-nicotine, is what’s made by tobacco plants but can also be found in synthetic products. It has different effects than its R-nicotine counterpart, which Benowitz says does not impact general addiction receptors as much.


Benowitz and his team are looking at those half-and-half products, hypothesizing they could lead people to smoke more to get the same effects from S-nicotine.


“And if synthetic nicotine is going to be on the market, we want to know: What’s the risk?” Benowitz says.


The project, which began in January and is expected to wrap up in September 2025, is the latest addition to Benowitz’s nearly 50 years of research into nicotine and its impact on humans, during which time the Old Tiburon resident has become one of the world’s top clinical pharmacologists and established himself as a leader in nicotine-addiction research.

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