All You Need To Know About Nicotine

Important facts about nicotine you should know.

9 min read

When it comes to vaping, Nicotine is usually one of the four key elements of an e-liquid, accompanying PG, VG and flavouring. There are a lot of different reports describing how it should be used and how dangerous it is. This article is your guide to everything you need to know about the liquid nicotine used in vaping.

What is Nicotine?

Nicotine is a colorless alkaloid chemical extracted from the tobacco plant Nicotiana tabacum, which is in the nightshade family of plants. It is also present in trace amounts in things like tomatoes potatoes, green pepper, eggplant and coca plants.
Nicotine acts as both a stimulant and a sedative. The most commonly reported effects mood elevation, alertness and calmness. Immediately after exposure to nicotine, there is a “kick” caused in part by the drug’s stimulation of the adrenal glands and results in a discharge of epinephrine (adrenaline). It is commonly viewed as physically and psychologically addictive.
A majority of vapers have started out as smokers and use e-juice with varying levels of nicotine. Retail e-juice can be obtained without nicotine, but it is usually sold with a range of strengths. The most common are:

  • 3mg (low)
  • 6mg (medium-low)
  • 12mg (medium)
  • 18mg (medium-high)
  • 24mg (high)
  • 36mg (very high)
Tobacco field at night

What Strength Nicotine Should I Start Vaping With?

One of the most common questions we get asked is about Nicotine strength, and there is no clear cut answer as it varies from person to person and device to device. However, we can give some basic tips.

Taste For some people, liquid nicotine has a harsh taste and the higher you progress, the more it will affect the taste of your liquid. Stick with low to medium strength e-juice if you find the taste of higher nicotine levels too harsh.
Throat Hit The throat hit is a very individual element of vaping, and the one thing that many ex-smokers crave. Using a high nicotine level can give this great hit, but so can a high level of PG. It might not be enough for heavy ex-smokers, but it’s worth playing with your PG/VG levels in combination with nicotine to find your personal preference.
Nicotine Addiction Nicotine is addictive, and heavy smokers are always tempted to go for high nicotine levels, but vaping is a very different sensation, and it might not be necessary.
Usage Level If you vape in the same way as you smoked cigarettes, a series of puffs of high nicotine could induce dizziness and nausea. If on the other hand, you vape throughout the day then a high dose of nicotine might work for you.

Vaping is a more casual process, taking a draw more often and for longer. This method provides a way to decrease the nicotine levels and some move to low or even no nicotine.

Our recommendation for beginners, even if they are heavy smokers is to start with low nicotine e-juice as that will allow you to take more drags without unwanted side effects. If you are determined to go for a high nicotine level, then use a low strength e-juice as a contrast.

Vaping too much nicotine can cause undesirable effects

Should I Adjust My Nicotine Intake Over Time?

Most vapers eventually reduce their nicotine level, as the get a more refined taste they start taking longer and slower puffs. Craving more nicotine can be achieved by taking more draws until you feel satisfied. Taking too much will make you feel unwell for a short period.
Reducing nicotine is best done gradually over time after one or two months try dropping a few mg of nicotine until you reach a level that you are happiest. If you feel that e-juice alone is not fixing your nicotine cravings, you can shift back up to a higher strength. Don’t forget the disadvantages and modify your overall consumption.

Related: Understanding Nicotine Strengths and Percentages

How Dangerous is Nicotine?

There is a common misconception that nicotine can cause serious illness and death from cancer, lung, and heart disease. When in fact the culprits are the tar and toxic gases that are released from burning tobacco when you smoke.
Nicotine is a dangerous chemical not because it causes cancer but because it can addict you to cigarettes. Michael Russell, who introduced tobacco harm reduction theory and developed nicotine gum made a clear statement in 1976: “People smoke for nicotine, but they die from the tar.”
Just like Russell’s gum, the nature of e-cigarettes is that they contain nicotine and thus satisfy the cravings of smokers, but vaping doesn’t burn tobacco and release those carcinogens. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand that nicotine itself isn’t the villain.
Nicotine in the process of vaping carries little risk by itself, and the evidence suggests that the risks are being overstated, especially when dealing with the nicotine in e-juice.
Many high-profile sources list the toxic dose of nicotine as between 30 and 60 mg. However, this dates back to a 1906 textbook from a German toxicologist. A 2013 study disputed this claim and had amended the fatal limit to 500-1000mg.
To put this in the context of vaping, the average vaper uses 4 ml of a 12 mg/ml e-liquid. Your body processes nicotine quite quickly (your blood nicotine levels will decrease by about half after two hours), so you’d need to consume a large amount in one go, which is far beyond the volume of nicotine contained in the average bottle of e-juice.

What is the vaping equivalent of smoking a cigarette?

Smoking Beauty by CissiJoe on DeviantArt

Many tests have shown that vaping delivers less nicotine than from smoking a cigarette, but they also admitted these are automated tests and may not be accurate. The diversity of vaping technology and individual inhalation techniques means there is no agreement on how much nicotine is absorbed during a single drag.

Vaping delivers less nicotine than smoking.

It will be a while before any study finds a way to measure all these variables accurately. Until then the best approach is to find a balance that suits your needs and stop vaping once you feel satisfied. Even if your nicotine dose ends up being the same as a typical cigarette just take comfort in the fact that you are not consuming the 4,000 additional chemicals typically found in tobacco smoke.

What else should I be aware of?

Sub-ohm Vaping If you are going to try a sub-ohm, then you will need to rethink your nicotine level as the inhalation from a sub-ohm vape is more powerful than regular vaping. Consuming more e-juice in a single hit while providing more nicotine leading to a mild overdose. e-Juice for sub-ohm vaping comes in one of three strengths, 0mg, 3mg and 6mg. You can sub-ohm with higher amounts, but, be forewarned, it will likely be unpleasant for most vapers causing dizziness and nausea.
Deterioration Nicotine degrades over time, by itself, most manufacturers give it a lifespan of 12-18 month. Both PG and VG also degrade at a slightly lower rate and even flavouring to a lesser extent. Nicotine over time will turn a yellow-brown colour and start to have a peppery stale odour. Nicotine in e-juice should last a little longer as is mixing around and oxidizing a bit less with the air in the bottle. As it is only a small part of the e-juice mix, it shouldn’t alter the taste dramatically.
Side-effects While vaping involves less exposure to harmful chemicals found in smoking tobacco, it doesn’t mean nicotine is harmless. Nicotine is addictive and is classed as moderate-low for physical dependence and moderate-high for psychological dependence. On the downside, it has been recorded to raise blood pressure, elevate heart rate. On the positive side, it has performance-enhancing abilities, particularly when it comes to attention, memory and motor skills.
Impact Time It takes under 5 minutes for nicotine from cigarette smoke to reach the central nervous system, but less than 10 seconds for it to reach the brain. If we compare that to vaping, it takes up to 30 seconds for it to reach the brain as the particle size much larger. This suggests that smoking causes a harder faster nicotine hit while vaping has a gentler, slower effect.
Time In System There is no clear-cut timeline to determine how quickly nicotine will be eliminated from your system. The amount of time nicotine stays in your system will depend primarily upon individual factors such as age, hormone levels, food intake, modality of nicotine administration, and possibly the frequency by which a person uses nicotine.
Nicotine has a half-life of approximately 2 hours, so in theory, it should be cleared from your body within 11 hours. However, despite the rapid processing of nicotine, the nicotine metabolite “cotinine” will stay in your system for a longer duration as a result of its extended half-life up to 27 hours and traces detectable up to 72 hours after your last intake.

Related: Cotinine tests can be purchased cheaply if you want to check for yourself.

Conclusion

Nicotine has been given a bad reputation, but if used sensibly it can be no more harmful than alcohol or caffeine while providing some benefits. If you are new to vaping, then you shouldn’t be concerned as the dangers have been overstated. Just like alcohol, you should find your satisfaction level and use at your own risk.