Lobelia Uses and Health Benefits

Quit Smoking
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Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) is a plant used in herbal medicine and in homeopathic medicine. Said to expel mucus from the respiratory tract, it's often used to treat respiratory problems. In addition, some individuals use lobelia to help them quit smoking.

A compound found in lobelia, lobeline was once a common ingredient in over-the-counter products used to alleviate symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal. However, in 1993, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a ban on the sale of anti-smoking products containing lobeline, due to a lack of evidence of the ingredient's effectiveness as a nicotine substitute.


In alternative medicine, lobelia is touted as a natural remedy for the following health conditions:

  • Asthma 
  • Bronchitis 
  • Cough 
  • Depression 
  • Pneumonia

In addition to purportedly aiding in smoking cessation, lobelia is said to support recovery from alcoholism.

When applied topically (i.e., directly to the skin), lobelia is used to soothe muscle pain, treat insect bites and ringworm, and promote the healing of bruises and sprains.


To date, research on the potential health benefits of lobelia has yielded mixed results. Here's a look at several key findings on the health effects of lobelia:

1) Smoking 

In animal research (such as a rat-based study published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics in 2000), scientists have observed that lobeline may have nicotine-like activity and help stimulate the release of dopamine (a brain chemical that plays a key role in producing feelings of pleasure and well-being).

While several animal-based studies like these indicate that lobeline may aid in smoking cessation, a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2012 concluded that there is no evidence from long-term clinical trials indicating that lobeline can help people quit smoking.

Analysis of both long- and short-term research determined that lobelia appears to offer no benefit as a smoking cessation aid.

2) Alcoholism

Lobeline may help treat alcoholism, according to a preliminary study published in Physiology & Behavior in 2009. In tests on mice, researchers found that lobeline significantly reduced the animals' alcohol preference and lowered their alcohol consumption. 

3) Depression

Preliminary research suggests that lobeline may have anti-depressant effects. In a 2013 study published in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, for instance, tests on mice demonstrated that lobeline may help alleviate depression by influencing certain brain chemicals involved in regulating mood.


Although it may be safe for some people to take lobelia in small doses or in homeopathic remedies, moderate-to-large doses may trigger such side effects as diarrhea, dry mouth, nausea, rapid heartbeat, and vomiting. 

Since there's some concern that moderate-to-large doses of lobelia may also cause serious adverse events like seizures, coma, and possibly even death, it's best to avoid lobelia entirely (and if you're still considering it, it's crucial to consult your physician prior to taking any amount).

It's especially important for individuals with conditions like epilepsy, heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and liver disease to avoid the use of lobelia.


If you're seeking a natural remedy to help you quit smoking, there's some evidence that the herb St. John's wort may be beneficial. Moreover, some studies indicate that undergoing acupuncture or hypnotherapy may help promote smoking cessation.

Acupuncture may also help support alcoholism recovery. Preliminary research shows that herbs like milk thistle and kudzu may be helpful in the treatment of alcoholism as well.

Using Lobelia

Due to a lack of supporting research and serious health risks, lobelia can't be recommended. Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. Also keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. If you're considering the use of lobelia, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

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Article Sources

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