Will Lobelia Help Me Quit Smoking More Easily?

Lobelia Inflata. By Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen (List of Koehler Images) [Public domain],{{PD-1923}}

Early smoking cessation usually involves a few or several uncomfortable physical symptoms that can leave new ex-smokers feeling exhausted and on the edge of lighting up.  Thankfully, this phase of quitting tobacco is short-lived, with positives from quitting soon outweighing the negatives.

In the meantime though, what can be done to ease the discomforts associated with nicotine withdrawal?  There are a number of conventional quit aids on the market today that can help, but what about natural alternatives?

Lobelia is often touted as a useful herb for easing symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.  Does it work?  Is it safe to use?  Let's take a look.

What is Lobelia?

Lobelia (lobelia inflata), is a plant with medicinal properties that has been used historically to treat respiratory ailments such as cough, asthma and bronchitis.  Native Americans smoked it as a treatment for asthma, hence its nickname of Indian tobacco.  It was also known as puke weed because early American doctors used it to induce vomiting. 

Today, lobelia is sometimes used therapeutically by herbalists to treat asthma.  Homeopaths may also recommend it for smoking cessation, as well as a number of other issues, including nausea and the respiratory ailments mentioned above.  Topically, it is used to relieve muscle aches, bruises, sprains, bug bites, poison ivy and ringworm.

The active ingredient in lobelia is lobeline, an alkaloid. Though less potent than nicotine, research has shown that lobeline appears to have a similar effect to nicotine on brain chemistry by triggering the release of dopamine in the brain.

Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure and is thought to be a mechanism of addiction. Because of this attribute, lobeline is sometimes used as a nicotine substitute offering relief from withdrawal symptoms.  That said, the amount of research necessary to vet lobelia as a viable smoking deterrent has not yet been done.


In 1993, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of lobeline in quit smoking remedies, stating there was not enough evidence about lobeline (and other herbs) used in "natural" quit smoking products to know whether they truly helped people reduce or quit tobacco use. This still applies today.

From the FDA

'Any product that bears labeling claims that it "helps stop or reduce the cigarette urge," "helps break the cigarette habit," "helps stop or reduce smoking," or similar claims is a smoking deterrent drug product. Cloves, coriander, eucalyptus oil, ginger (Jamaica), lemon oil (terpeneless), licorice root extract, lobeline (in the form of lobeline sulfate or natural lobelia alkaloids or Lobelia inflata herb), menthol, methyl salicylate, povidone-silver nitrate, quinine ascorbate, silver acetate, silver nitrate, and thymol have been present as ingredients in such drug products. There is a lack of adequate data to establish general recognition of the safety and effectiveness of these or any other ingredients for OTC use as a smoking deterrent.

Based on evidence currently available, any OTC drug product containing ingredients offered for use as a smoking deterrent cannot be generally recognized as safe and effective.'

Potential Health Risks Associated with Lobelia

In low doses, lobeline causes:

  • bronchial dilation
  • increased respiratory rate

In high doses, lobeline can cause:

  • respiratory depression
  • sweating
  • rapid heart rate
  • hypotension
  • coma
  • death

People Who Should Avoid Lobelia

If you have a heart condition, high blood pressure, liver disease, kidney disease or shortness of breath, do not use lobelia.

If you are pregnant or nursing, avoid lobelia.

If you have a sensitivity to tobacco, paralysis, seizure disorder or are recovering from shock, do not use lobelia.

Lobelia can also cause intestinal problems and exacerbate ulcers, Chron's disease, IBS and intestinal infections.

The Bottom Line

Lobelia is considered safe in small doses, but can be dangerous and even deadly in larger amounts.  It has not been proven to be beneficial for smoking cessation. 

Consult with a health care professional before using it for any reason, including relief from nicotine withdrawal symptoms.


U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Cod of Federal Regulations Title 21 Sec 310.544. Drug products containing active ingredients offered over-the-counter (OTC) for use as a smoking deterrent. http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch.cfm?fr=310.544

University of Maryland Medical Center. Lobelia. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/lobelia

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