Addictive Potential: Low
Emergency Room Visits Yearly: Unkown
Mandatory Minimum Sentence: None
Mechanism of Action: stimulant, GABA receptor inhibitor
The Areca nut is the seed of the Areca palm (Areca catechu), which grows in much of the tropical Pacific, Asia, and parts of east Africa. It is commercially available in dried, cured, and fresh forms. While fresh, the husk is green and the nut inside is so soft that it can easily be cut with an average knife. In the ripe fruit the husk becomes yellow or orange and, as it dries, the fruit inside hardens to a wood-like consistency. At that stage the areca nut can only be sliced using a special scissor-like cutter.
Usually a few slices of the nut are wrapped in a Betel leaf along with lime and may include clove, cardamom, catechu (kattha), etc. for extra flavouring. Betel leaf has a fresh, peppery taste, but it can be bitter depending on the variety.
Areca nuts are chewed with betel leaf for their effects as a mild stimulant, causing a mild hot sensation in the body and slightly heightened alertness, although the effects vary from person to person. The effect of chewing betel nut is relatively mild and could be compared to drinking a cup of coffee. The areca nut contains tannin, gallic acid, a fixed oil gum, a little terpineol, lignin, various saline substances and three main alkaloids: Arecoline, Arecain and Guracine which have vasoconstricting properties. The betel leaf chewed along with it contains eugenol, also a vasoconstrictor. Many chewers also add small pieces of tobacco leaf to the mixture, thereby adding the effect of the nicotine, which causes greater addiction than the drugs contained in the nut and the betel.
In China, East and North-East India areca nuts are not only chewed along with betel leaf but are also used in the preparation of Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese medicines. Powdered areca nut is used as a constituent in some tooth powders. Other medicinal uses include the removal of tapeworms and other intestinal parasites by swallowing a few teaspoons of powdered areca nut, drunk as a decoction, or by taking tablets containing the extracted alkaloids.
Side Effects and Adverse Reactions:
The high rate of oral cancer in India is thought to be due to the chewing of betel preparations, though it is unclear whether this can be attributed to the betel leaf, the areca nut, or to the tobacco which is added to some betel preparations. There is an association between the chewing of betel preparations and oral and esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. It is also unclear whether similar health risks exist with traditional recipes as those that are associated with modern betel mixtures. The addition of tobacco leaf (the most harmful and addictive component) to the chewing mixture is a relatively recent one, introduced during colonial times a mere few centuries ago.
More study is needed to understand the full spectrum of side effects, adverse reactions, and addiction potential.