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Nicotine
Basics
by Erowid
DESCRIPTION #
Nicotine is a psychoactive alkaloid that is most commonly administered through smoking or chewing the leaves of the tobacco plant (Nicotiana tabacam and Nicotiana rustica), although starting the late 20th century nicotine gums and other products began to be widely used. Nicotine has a long history of use in its natural form and remains a widely-accepted and commonly-used psychoactive substances, despite being highly addictive and linked to serious health problems. Anti-smoking regulations and media campaigns have substantially reduced use of nicotine in Europe and North America in the last 20 years.
As of 2004, testing showed that the average cigarette contained 12+ mg of nicotine and delivered approximately 1.2-1.8 mg to the smoker. Nicotine gum products are sold with dosages up to 4 mg per piece in the United States. Transdermal patches are sold that deliver around .88 mg, .58 mg, and .29 mg per hour for 24 hours. Intranasal (nasal spray) doses are similar to smoked doses.
Price #
Nicotine is most frequently administered through tobacco cigarettes. In the United States a pack of 20 cigarettes ranges in price from $3-$6 (15-30 cents apiece). Nicotine gum, marketed as a smoking-ceasation tool, costs approximately 50-80 cents for each piece of gum containing 2 mg of nicotine. Transdermal patches cost 1-4 USD per day-use patch.
Nicotine is regulated by numerous state and federal laws in the United States, but is not scheduled under the Controlled Substances Act. In most states it is legal to purchase by persons over the age of 18. Nictoine regulation is also complex internationally.
Nicotine is an alkaloid similar to others found in tobacco, such nornicotine and anabasine which exhibit similar pharmacological effects. Nicotine content varies considerably between different tobacco species; in N. rustica it can be as high as 18%, while it rarely exceeds 9% in N. tabacum. It is primarily found in the leaves of these plants, though it occurs in flowers, stems, and roots as well. Nicotine is an oily liquid at room temperature (Merck)
Pharmacology #
Pharmacology Summary Needed.
Production #
Production Summary Needed.
Tobacco was probably first cultivated in either Peru or Mexico. The plant has a long tradition of shamanic and cultural use in North and South America, as well as in the interior of Australia, where it was grown and used prior to the arrival of Europeans.

Nicotine is named for French diplomat Jean Nicot de Villemain who advocated the use of tobacco in Europe in the late 1500s. The pure chemical was first isolated in Germany in 1828 and was first synthesized in 1893. During the first half of the 20th Century, there was great debate about the potential health risks associated with cigarette smoking, leading to significant attempts by many countries to reduce smoking rates. The first nicotine gum was approved in the U.S. as a prescription smoking cessation drug in 1984, followed by nicotine patches in 1992. Both became available over-the-counter in 1996.
Terminology / Slang #
Brand Names:
Nicorette (Gum); Nicoderm (Patch); Habitrol (Patch); Nicotrol (Patch).
The Substance:
Nicotine.
The Experience:
No common terms known.
EFFECTS #
Nicotine exerts paradoxical effects, acting as both a stimulant and a relaxant. It causes increased heart rate and blood pressure while also acting as a muscle relaxant and reducing anxiety. It suppresses appetite and causes increased bowel activity. Initial exposure may result in nausea, dizziness, or light-headedness.

The experiential effects of nicotine change with habituation. Those new to the drug often experience light-headedness and strong mental effects where those who use nicotine regularly do not generally experience those effects. Over time, the effects of nicotine are not only calming but are said to enhance attentional focus and increase the pleasure of other activities. Research published in 2006 by Kenny and Markou suggested that nicotine "resets the sensitivity of reward systems to a new increased level, thereby impriting an indelible 'memory' of its effects". In other words, smoke a cigarette and eat an apple, the apple seems to be just a little more satisfying than the apple without the cigarette.

Nicotine may provide some beneficial effects on certain psychiatric conditions and has been preliminarily shown to slow onset of Parkinson's Disease symptoms. It's stimulating effects may be used by ADHD sufferers as a self-treatment, although its beneficial effects on attention disorders has not been established in the scientific literature. Nicotine tends to reduce appetite, even in regular users.
Onset #
When smoked, nicotine absorbtion is very rapid and effects are almost immediate. Chewing tobacco results in slower onset, but longer duration of effects. Chewing nicotine gum, effects begin in 2-10 minutes.
Duration #
After smoking a single tobacco cigarette, primary effects persist for approximately 10-45 minutes, with lingering effects for one to two hours. Orally ingested nicotine lasts 45-120 minutes, with lingering effects lasting several hours.
Visual Effects #
Visuals Summary Needed.
PROBLEMS #
Nicotine is highly toxic in humans at high doses and deaths have been caused by ingesting water that had cigarettes steeped in it. In non-tolerated users, 1-4 mg of nicotine can cause a sense of overstimulation, nausea, vertigo, and dysphoria. Nicotine poisonings occur from skin contact with tobacco plants, contact with nicotine-containing pesticides, after intentional oral ingestion (suicides), and young children accidentally eating tobacco products. The U.S. Center for Disease Control reports the "fatal human dose has been estimated to be about 50 to 60 mg [Lazutka et al. 1969]" (CDC.gov).

Although many of the health problems associated with tobacco products are related to smoking and other chemicals in the tobacco, nicotine is associated with a number of health problems when taken chronically. Nicotine causes vasoconstriction, increased heart rate, and increased blood pressure. Over time, these effects are associated with increase risk of cardio vascular problems (heart attack), poor blood circulation in the extremities, and stroke. (U.S. Surgeon General's Report 2004)
Contraindications #
  • Heart problems (particularly cardiac arrhythmia)
  • Many respiratory ailments or illnesses may be exacerbated by smoking
  • Nicotine use during pregnancy may result in lower birth weight
  • Those with circulatory problems or at risk of stroke
Addiction Potential #
Nicotine is widely regarded as one of the most addictive substances known. Physical dependence often occurs very rapidly and can be very difficult to overcome. Withdrawal symptoms include headache, nausea, constipation, insomnia, agitation, and long-lasting mild anhedonia.
Long Term Health Problems #
Long Term Health Problems Summary Needed.
Risk of Death #
Risk of Death Summary Needed.
CAUTION & DISCLAIMER #
Erowid Basics pages are summaries of data gathered from site visitors, government documents, books, websites, and other resources. We do our best to keep this information correct and up-to-date, but the field is complex and constantly changing. Information should always be verified through multiple sources.