Nicotine Poisoning. Symptoms and Cure
Nicotine is naturally found in the roots and leaves of various plants especially those of the nightshade family. It is most commonly found in that of tobacco. Many people don’t know this but nicotine is actually very toxic, sometimes even more than cocaine and so it is highly controlled and regulated by the government. As little as 60mg of the substrate is enough to kill a person and ordinarily no one can just walk into a drug store and purchase that much quantity.
To achieve a lethal dose from cigarettes, for instance, one must smoke about 40 cigarettes at once or chew about 15 pieces of nicotine gum at once. The majority of the poisoning cases are in fact cases where children mistakenly reach for a pack of nicotine gum or liquid nicotine that people use in electronic cigarettes. For an adult, most cases are outright poisoning where an individual intentionally poisons someone else’s drink or something similar.
In other words, nicotine might be a weapon. Even then, it is difficult to die from nicotine poisoning as much of the drug will come out of the body by vomiting once it is ingested.
Most smokers and non-smokers alike consider nicotine a benign substance. With the thousands of chemicals present in tobacco products and the smoke they emit, the nicotine content is usually the last thing people consider when thinking of the dangers of smoking.
For a long time, nicotine was considered no more dangerous a drug than caffeine. After the research, the evidence is starting to point towards some possible links to cancer and reproductive problems from nicotine that doesn’t come from smoking. And this is in normal amounts that would come from vaping and not from ingesting pure nicotine. Repeated exposure could end up causing health problems besides just nicotine addiction and withdrawals. Even aside from the relatively small threat of nicotine poisoning, nicotine is a serious drug and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
How Nicotine Is Ingested
When smoked, nicotine is absorbed into the bloodstream, urine, hair and skin. But to be ingested, someone would have to physically consume a cigarette, nicotine patch, e-liquid or other source of nicotine. This is most likely to happen in a household that has both small children and nicotine users. The child may get hold of some sort of nicotine product and start eating it.
While anyone can suffer the deleterious effects of nicotine ingestion, it is small children and sickly people who are most likely to suffer severe effects. Their immune systems are not as strong as the average adult, and they likely are not used to the effects of nicotine.
Ingesting nicotine is much like smoking numerous cigarettes or using a series of nicotine patches all at once. Most people who smoke or use these products are not going to suffer the same effects as someone who actually ingests them into their system.
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Is Nicotine in Cigarettes Dangerous?
The health consequences of smoking are well documented. Cigarettes cause lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke. It causes lung infections, an increased risk of allergies and asthma, COPD, and numerous other health issues. But how many of these issues are caused by the nicotine?
Most of the tobacco’s dangers stem from the smoke and chemical additives found cigarettes and other commercial tobacco products. Nicotine, as a stimulant, may increase blood pressure. In general, however, it is not the most dangerous aspect of cigarette smoking. This is especially true in those who are not known to be sensitive to stimulants.
That said, nicotine is the substance which makes tobacco products so addictive, so it is the reason most people find it hard to quit, despite the negative health outcomes smokers face. Although, in moderate doses, nicotine is not lethal.
The amount of nicotine intake over the course of a day from a chain smoker is generally around 37.6mg. That is a fraction of what it takes to get nicotine poisoning.
Nicotine and the Human Body
But how does this chemical work in the human body? It is absorbed into the bloodstream through popular delivery methods like smoking, chewing and ‘dipping’. When smoking tobacco, the nicotine easily enters the bloodstream through the lungs, and is acting on the brain within 8-20 seconds of an inhalation. Although smoking cigarettes is often seen as the most common way to get a nicotine fix, ingesting tobacco orally or through the nasal passages by chewing or snorting it disperses more nicotine than through smoking.
nicotine and dopamineOnce nicotine hits the brain, it immediately begins to act as a stimulant. Adrenaline quickly courses through the brain, kick-starting a huge array of chemical and physical reactions. The epinephrine secreted by the adrenal glands after nicotine exposure is the same exact epinephrine that the body naturally produces during times of fear, excitement, and stress. It can provide a short lived but powerful boost within the brain. Heart rate and blood pressure go up with this adrenaline rush, along with the output of glucose and higher respiratory rates.
Nicotine also has an extremely powerful effect on dopamine output in the brain. Dopamine has been called the ‘pleasure molecule’, and it speaks to humans on a deeply primitive level. Feelings of pleasure and motivation are followed by dopamine release in the brain, and although the brains truly enjoy the pleasure in a dopamine release, the addiction lies in the motivation aspect of it.
Once the dopamine wears off, the body wants to regain the pleasurable feeling. Thus, addictions of all types are born. Nicotine leaves the body very quickly, and once it does, that pleasure and reward system practically begs to be stimulated again. Over time, nicotine builds up in the system, and the nicotine addict has to increase the intake in order to satisfy the dopamine demands. Just like with drugs of abuse like heroin or cocaine, nicotine can easily ensnare a person into a vicious cycle of addiction. The dopamine receptors in the brain can actually begin to diminish, so that less dopamine is absorbed, causing the system to demand more and more.
The use of nicotine leads different people to feel different things. Despite the fact that nicotine is a stimulant, many people say that nicotine relaxes them, and can even have a sedative effect. Others may feel more aware or alert, and some have described it as a nearly euphoric feeling.
Although nicotine is not solely responsible for all of the negative health problems encountered in tobacco users, it remains one of the most powerful. It is the primary ingredient that feeds the hardcore addiction that so many people are trapped by. While scientists are still researching and collating data about nicotine and the human body, society continues to be the force that focuses and shapes popular opinion about the potent chemical.
What is Nicotine Poisoning?
While unlikely to occur from cigarettes directly, nicotine poisoning is a risk. Nicotine, like any drug, can be overdosed. The exposure limit will depend on body weight and sensitivity, and there are various places where one might acquire nicotine levels that are too high for their body to handle.
Most cases of nicotine poisoning occur with the use of some insecticides, which isn’t a common household risk for most. Other sources may include:
The nicotine in refills may contain high levels of the substance. According to a KPBS report, the safety limits cited by the CDC may be drastically overstated, and most e-cig refills do not contain enough nicotine to kill an adult who is vaping normally. However, they may pose a risk to young children, who may become exposed to the e-liquid. For these reasons, all nicotine-related devices and products should be kept out of the reach of children.
Nicotine Gums and Patches
If one piece of gum is good, then several must be better, right? Those who are using these nicotine replacement products to quit smoking should remember that nicotine gum is not the same as the gum you find on the candy aisle. Failure to follow package or your doctor’s instructions could lead to a nicotine overdose. These gums and patches are nicotine products, and therefore should also be kept out of the reach of children.
Symptoms of Nicotine Overdose
Nicotine poisoning tends to produce symptoms that follow a pattern. Nicotine poisoning symptoms are caused by extreme stimulation of nicotine in the central and autonomous system and the neuromuscular junction. At lower doses, nicotine causes stimulating effects on the receptors present there but at higher doses or more sustained exposure, the effects are inhibitory and can lead to neuromuscular problems.
The first symptoms are usually as a result of the stimulating nature of nicotine and these symptoms include things like vomiting, hypertension, headaches, excessive salivation and even seizures. After the first phase of symptoms, other symptoms from the depressor effects of nicotine follows and these symptoms may include things like muscular weakness, central nervous system depression, paralysis, coma, labored breathing and eventually respiratory failure.
Exposure to electronic cigarettes and liquid nicotine is also fast becoming a major issue. In 2014, more than 50 percent of nicotine poisoning cases occurred in children under the age of 6. Children and toddlers who come in contact with e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine become very ill very quickly and they exhibit all the symptoms. It is harmful to them and adults should be extremely careful where they keep or place these products.
According to Medline, nicotine overdose may present many potential symptoms. These can include:
- Nausea and abdominal pain
- Restlessness or agitation
- Irregular breathing – either rapid breathing or difficulty breathing
- Burning sensation in the mouth
In severe cases, the person may stop breathing. Seizures and coma have also been reported.
How Much Nicotine Does It Take To Overdose?
Unfortunately, only 60mg is enough to be lethal. When we think about the vast variety of tobacco products, such as cigarettes, e-cigs, pipes, and nicotine patches, nicotine poisoning seems more than real. Note that nicotine poisoning rarely occurs as a result of smoking. In fact, experts claim that to reach a lethal dose, one must smoke 40 cigarettes at once or chew 15 nicotine gums, such as Nicorette. That’s because smokers absorb only one-tenth of the nicotine in a cigarette, which is not more than 1mg. Of course, many factors, such as weight and age, also should be considered.
Preventing and Dealing with Nicotine Overdose
The best way to prevent nicotine overdose is to stay away from all nicotine containing products and substances. But the reality is that nicotine use is a part of the culture now and smoking alone accounts for most of the nicotine we consume. It is important to be very careful of the quantities that are consumed and avoid taking a combination of substances and products that all contain nicotine at varying levels. Also when it comes to electronic cigarettes that make use of liquid nicotine, the user should keep careful track of the quantities and concentration of nicotine that is used.
In the event of nicotine poisoning or overdose/exposure, there are specific first aid guidelines that can be followed before seeking immediate medical attention. Upon exposure of the eye to nicotine, you should immediately remove the source of nicotine and immediately wash the eyes with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes and then seek medical attention.
If nicotine has been ingested, remove the victim from the source of exposure and ensure that the victim’s airways are unobstructed. Do not induce vomiting and do not administer antacids. Alkaline conditions only improve the absorption of nicotine. The victim will vomit spontaneously. Hydrate the victim and monitor heart function and respiratory functions. Seek medical attention immediately.
If you or someone you know may have consumed dangerous levels of nicotine, contact the poison center for information on what to do. If symptoms have already begun, call 911. Meanwhile, everyone should know about the treatment of nicotine poisoning that should be done.
Although rare in smokers or vapers, if you ever begin to experience nausea, headache, dizziness, or any of the other symptoms listed above while consuming nicotine containing products, stop all use at once and contact your doctor immediately.
In the case of nicotine poisoning, call 911. Do not hesitate and seek help. While you’re waiting, remove the source of nicotine, and try to prevent airway obstruction. Also, wash the face of the person to keep them conscious or give them water, but do not force them to walk, or vomit. In fact, do not administer antacids, usually used for stomach problems, as they lead to a quicker nicotine absorption. If possible, collect as much information as available, and determine what products the patient has consumed.
At the ER, activated charcoal, intubation, airway support, and IV may be applied. Medicines to treat agitation are also common. The sooner one gets help, the better the chance for successful treatment and recovery.
Data shows that the calls due to nicotine liquids (for e-cigs) rose to 215 per month (2010-2014). Sadly enough, 51.1% involved kids under 5 and 42% – young adults.
If you or someone else shows any signs of nicotine overdose, call a poison center or 911.
Nicotine Poisoning: In A Nutshell
To sum up, although tobacco products are available worldwide, nicotine is as dangerous as any other illicit or prescribed drugs. Nicotine poisoning can lead to some long-term effects and death. In fact, according to data from 2014, more than 4,024 cases of toxicity have been reported (only in the U.S.). Therefore, always keep your products stored properly and away from kids and pets. Of course, the safest option to prevent nicotine poisoning is to stay away from tobacco products and quit. Nicotine-free life means a safe future!
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31 comments on “Nicotine Poisoning. Symptoms and Cure”
lolaApril 8, 2022 at 9:45 am
will you still have nightmares if patch was licked days before
Judi terwayJune 19, 2019 at 5:56 pm
My husband chews a lot of nicorette gum. By the end of the day, late or mid afternoon he is not understanding things as he should. He also slurs his speech and at times gets real agitated. He is 75years old and I do really worry about him. Any ideas? I think he needs help.
Tab WheelerNovember 16, 2020 at 10:34 am
These symptoms sound like poor cognitive function, yet i do not know you should still get him checked up with a doctor or neurologist.
JamesOctober 19, 2018 at 11:02 pm
I’m 16, friend had a juul so decided I’ll give it a try (first time smoking anything). Started hitting it real hard. About 5 minutes later started feeling nauseous and then vomitting. Eventually fell asleep and the next day (now), I am very lathargic and having mild cramps. Will these go away? What should I do?
KateOctober 23, 2018 at 8:42 am
omg. You should not use it. Of course you’ve got poisoned. Juul is a toy for adults
how did you even get it? it’s illegal to vape in your age, so you’d better stop.
TyniaDecember 22, 2019 at 8:44 am
Im feeling the same way . I’ve juuled here and there but I never built up an immunity to it . I’ve got cramps and abdominal pains , chest pains and diarrhea . Not sure if I should go to urgent care or not .
Mole manSeptember 14, 2018 at 4:36 am
Stubber your right man I’ve been rolling a backwoods and licking it to get it wet and stick together put me on the moon I couldnt stand up and almost puked but I was fine like 5 minutes later and got back smoking ?
AnonymousSeptember 12, 2018 at 11:31 pm
Im 14 and i weigh 139lbs. , ive been juuling (65mg) alot lately (for about 3 months) and I have experimented with cigarettes as well) and for the past couple of days my stomach has been hurting like bad, and I noticed that everytime I hit my juul it gets worse. Do you think its nicotine poisoning?
Joan ByrneJuly 13, 2018 at 2:50 am
I think vaping is far more dangerous than cigarettes because it is pure nicotine and people think they are better for them than cigarettes so use more, nicotine does build up in the system although even this report gives a conflicting report in that it says it takes 48/72 hours for nicotine to leave the system than further on states nicotine leaves the system quickly?!
Nicotine narrows the arteries which lead to restricted blood flow to all parts of the body and promotes the symptoms also it causes the stomach to become more acid and promotes acid reflux then people take digestion remedies which makes the stomach more alkaline and then the nicotine is more easily absorbed
I smoke I wish I never started they have ruined my health and cost me a small fortune over the years I try to keep control by timing my cigarettes IE 1 every hour or even 2 hours and keeping busy and eating a good diet
StubberJuly 4, 2018 at 5:12 am
No one has mentioned cigars? Why ?
AnonymousJune 27, 2018 at 9:29 pm
Ok so I was just vaping with my friends and all the sudden I started to feel sick, I’m shaking right now, and my stomach hurts. Idk what to do. My friends vape has 35 nic I took at least 10 hits. Me and my other friend came into the house so I can get some fresh air and relax
Vape lordJuly 18, 2018 at 4:17 pm
Sounds like you’re fcked buddy
abbyJune 26, 2018 at 10:57 pm
im 14 and i juul ALOT. at first i did it to seem cool but then i started doing it more and more bc it helped wit my anxiety. i use about one pod a day (about as much as a pack of cigs) and ive started to feel weirdly sick a a lot. help.
RobertJune 12, 2018 at 12:46 am
I got it putting the wrong patch on and was in bad mood and smoked. I went down hard. Don’t remember how I got to phone for help. (I was at work)
I just calmed down and got a ride home and rested for 18 hours, Back to work the next day…Perfectly fine
jacqueline lloydJune 7, 2018 at 1:03 am
I smoke 10 cigs a day ,but use 1mg silk cut silver.I’ve been given patches from the doctor which are 21mgs.but have been getting terrible leg cramps in my right leg.and sharp painful stabbing pains.I am 65 yrs old and do have some arthritis in knees.but wondered if these patches were doing this.thank you.
MericaMay 30, 2018 at 9:03 pm
I’m 16 and weigh about 110-115 and have a juul that has 50mg of nic that I smoke every day and I’m fine
RachelJuly 5, 2018 at 4:35 pm
That’s only because you are not ingesting the entire juul pod of ejuice. You’d have to swallow all of the juice at once to be affected by it, just by solely vaping it normally you’re only taking in about half on the nicotine content in it.
BrettSeptember 17, 2018 at 4:01 pm
50mgs of nicotine?!?! Be careful! That is A LOT of nicotine and you could easily poison yourself if you smoke too much of that.
Hunter WhitmoreMay 30, 2018 at 6:40 pm
Joshau I have experienced nicotine poisoning repeatedly, and never gone to the doctor. Im an idiot and I think anyone should seek medical help if they even think they’re poisoned by anything. The possibly preventable damage it does to our body’s is note worthy
JoshauMay 29, 2018 at 3:23 pm
Who got nic poisoning and didn’t go to the doctor and was fine
AlexJune 6, 2018 at 2:38 am
Articles about any kind of overdose seem to list “seek emergency medical attention” as the only possible treatment, and honestly, that’s bullshit. The idea of “emergency medical attention” as the ultimate treatment completely neglects people without access to professional medical attention. I’m always so frustrated to find myself googling overdose treatment at home for me or a friend of mine, and not finding any real answers.
I have a habit of not realizing how much I’m smoking/vaping and accidentally giving myself mild nicotine poisoning. I’ve never gone to a doctor about it because I’ve survived overdosing on several other drugs over the years and mostly avoided medical attention.
As it says in this article, I’ve found drinking lots of water to be consistently helpful. I also find eating something small and bland helpful, although I think part of my overall issue is that I often forget to eat (due to the appetite surpressant effect of cigarettes and my medication).
As far as the above list of symptoms goes, I’ve had nausea, restlessness, irregular breathing, confusion, weakness, and headaches. I’ve never dealt with convulsions, vomiting, or fainting as a result of nicotine poisoning. So I’ve had pretty mild experiences, and turned out okay despite not leaving my doctor’s office a voicemail in the middle of the night about how my head and stomach hurt and I can’t catch my breath. Because what good would that do? I can’t speak to anyone’s experience but my own, and I know myself well enough to know that I can tough it out on my own without calling 911 to tell them I vaped too much and I feel icky.
I don’t mean to ignore the potential danger of nicotine poisoning and the potential help that a professional medical setting could provide; I just want to point out that not every overdose is life-threatening and I think articles like this subtly suggest that they are.
Honestly I don’t have much of a point here other than mild overdoses exist and can be dealt with and survived without serious medical attention.
Thanks for reading
BillyJuly 14, 2018 at 2:17 am
for how long did you have this poisoning, because mine still lasts for 5 days and i don’t know what to do.
SashaJuly 25, 2018 at 11:29 pm
I have been using the patch for 3 years. I know, I’m doing it wrong. Not the point though. Last month and a few days ago, I suddenly became deathly (literally) ill and had no idea why. Both times I had gotten a lot more sun than usual, both times I had had some edible thc and both times I was using the patch and had sweated. I a nurse and figured out that something in this equation allowed too much nicotine into my system. I’m still trying to figure it out. The DO at the urgent care clinic gave me something for the nausea and vomiting but I recovered from a nicotine overdose fully, with only that medical intervention.
SeanMay 18, 2018 at 1:34 am
I started on a nicotine spray a week ago and I have been on sick for a couple of days. The only problem I have is all my gums are Now all tendor and sore.. Whenever I breath in cold air or drink anything cold. My teeth become all sensitive. I brush my teeth on a daily basis but is there anything else I could do?
My2SenseApril 16, 2018 at 11:53 am
Dustin..that sound like you may have bee having mini strokes. I would.definitely get checked out.
My2SenseApril 16, 2018 at 11:51 am
MartyFebruary 26, 2018 at 4:54 pm
Thank you for a very thorough article, as I learned much.
DustinFebruary 23, 2018 at 1:18 am
I have been smoking atleast a pack or 2 of cigarettes a day for 10 years. Ive cut down to half a pack a day over 2 weeks. Anyhow.
My first cigarette if the day, i have had 2 episodes this month. Of extreme disorientation, weakness, dizziness & to where people cant understand the words im saying. This lasts 15-40 minutrs… why ???
GuntherMarch 12, 2018 at 5:24 pm
DanielApril 2, 2018 at 1:29 pm
Dustin, sorry to hear about that and you’re right to be concerned. I’ve gone through over a decade of pack+ a day smoking, then vaping a ton a few years, then abusing the gums and lozenges (even snus) and have had episodes of unconsciousness and vomiting (even a seizure once) so my history with nicotine is pretty in-depth. (I’m not a doctor you should ask one) But it sounds like you’re nervous system is having a negative reaction to the fasted state, not having nicotine while sleeping causes the fast which is a good thing. Wait longer and longer everyday to have that first and before you know it it’ll be after lunch and you’ll soon get to a point where your last one/two of the day is also your first technically. The before-bed one is the hardest to kick in my opinion since sleeping is difficult without it. Embrace the fasted state your body get into make it last as long as you can and you’ll kick it in the end. It’s totally worth the initial struggle and congrats on cutting down!! Also drink lots of water makes things much smoother.
AliJune 26, 2018 at 8:17 am
I’m a heavy smoker too … I do fast in Ramadan (no food/drink/smoke for about 14-16 hours a day and sometimes I cut smoking for 20 hours during the month)
so my first cigarette makes me feel a bit high and dizzy for about 15 minutes …
I think because the nicotine levels in the blood go below normal when you cut suddenly for long time
so when you take the first cigarette the body absorb the nicotine in a faster way or in a different way than normal which makes it feel more intense – sometimes it feels like the first cigarette ever but that last for few minutes then the second cigarette feels normal so on.
so maybe what you feel is an advanced stage of what happen normally
I’m just saying what I think .. I’m not a doctor … you might be having health problems[ or you are on a different level of nicotine addiction I don’t know
good luck … I switched to vaping so I can lower the amount of nicotine I take and quit smoking … wish me luck too.