What is Arecoline?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Arecoline is a chemical compound found naturally in the nuts of the Areca catechu or areca palm. Nuts from these palms have been processed and used historically to extract the arecoline, as the compound has stimulant properties similar to nicotine. There are other potential medical uses for this compound as well, and a number of pharmaceutical companies have invested in studying the chemical structure of the compound to learn more about how it works and determine if it can be applied to medical treatment.

Areca nuts are often wrapped in betel leaves and chewed.
Areca nuts are often wrapped in betel leaves and chewed.

In some regions of Asia, arecoline is taken as a stimulant by chewing areca nuts. These nuts may be blended with betel, another stimulant, in wads designed for chewing. People in many different social classes use these stimulants while working or engaging in other activities where they want more energy, and the chewing wads can be flavored with spices to freshen the breath. The central nervous system interacts with this chemical compound, mistaking it for a neurotransmitter and making the user feel energized and alert.

People with Alzheimer's disease may experience improved cognition after taking arecoline.
People with Alzheimer's disease may experience improved cognition after taking arecoline.

Medically, arecoline is a known anthelmintic, a medication that can be used to treat worms. When the compound enters the digestive tract, it kills worms and allows the patient to express them from the body. Nicotine has similar properties and in some regions is also used as a folk remedy for treating worms in people or animals. Other anthelmintic medications are available as alternatives without a stimulating effect. These medications are also more reliable in terms of dosage and can be safer to use.

Pharmaceutical companies are researching arecoline for potential use in medications.
Pharmaceutical companies are researching arecoline for potential use in medications.

Studies have suggested that this compound may also be useful in the treatment of certain types of cognitive impairments. People with Alzheimer's disease and some other neurological conditions experience improved cognition after taking arecoline, a common response to stimulants. Medications using this compound have potential uses in the management and treatment of degenerative neurological disease, by helping patients retain cognitive function so they can think more clearly and remain active and independent.

While natural compounds are generally not patentable under the law, a pharmaceutical company could develop a synthetic version of this compound or patent a special method for processing it. These measures are likely, as the process of researching and developing new medications is very expensive and many companies are reluctant to invest in treatments that cannot be patented. Having a patent allows a company to recoup the costs associated with pharmaceutical research, development, and testing.

Arecoline has stimulant properties similar to nicotine.
Arecoline has stimulant properties similar to nicotine.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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