Compounds from tropical nut could help break nicotine, betel nut addictions

Roger Papke, Ph.D., is a professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of pharmacology and therapeutics.There are more than 1 billion cigarette smokers worldwide and another 600 million who chew betel quid, an addicting mix of areca palm nut that sometimes includes tobacco. Now, a group of University of Florida researchers has identified compounds derived from the areca nut that could help smokers and betel quid users break their addictions.

The compounds create new molecules that may lead to a treatment for betel quid addiction and a smoking-cessation medication with fewer side effects, researchers said. At least one of those compounds may prove to be especially useful, said Roger Papke, Ph.D., a professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of pharmacology and therapeutics. The findings by Papke and co-investigator Nicole A. Horenstein, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of chemistry, are being presented today at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting in San Francisco.

“We can see that there are common anti-addiction needs with betel quid users and smokers. We’re hoping to take what we have learned from betel quid research and create a drug that will help both groups,” Papke said.

The betel nut, a seed of the areca palm, is grown and used 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 — is a cultural tradition in those regions. In small doses, it creates a sense of euphoria and alertness. Prolonged use can