What is Nicotine?

Nicotine is a parasympathomimetic alkaloid, stimulant found in plants and vegetation belonging to the nightshade family. Nicotine is found in high amounts in good quality tobacco which is a common way most people boost their nicotine intake. However smoking is very addictive, a habit which is only mildly contributed by nicotine alone. There are many harmful chemicals found in cigarettes which are known to be carcinogenic. There are no relevant studies in humans on the carcinogenic effects of pure nicotine. Nicotine acts as an acetylcholine receptor agonist which is why it is able to effect brain activity. It is chemically similar to a neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

Nicotine has some similar effects to caffeine and has been used historically in native tribes for ceremonial purposes.

Tobacco has thousands of other chemicals. Many of these are harmful as they are carcinogenic. There are also chemicals found in cigarettes which are known to be cardio toxic and teratogenic. Although tobacco is harmful to health and is one of the major preventable cause of death worldwide, some studies suggest the nicotine found in these plants may be helpful for various health conditions.

When dosed correctly nicotine may be a useful nootropic for the purpose of enhancing cognitive function.

Nicotine has been used as an insecticide in the past, however it has since been banned due to its toxic effects making it incredibly harmful to animals and humans.

Although tobacco is quite addictive some studies suggest that nicotine used on its own is less addictive. Nicotine is commonly used in NRT (nicotine replacement therapy) to help people who are chronic smokers to quit smoking.

Health Benefits of Nicotine

There have been many studies and researches in recent times for the potential benefits of Nicotine both as a nootropic and smart drug with ongoing research of its benefits for the treatment and prevention on neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. However there has not been enough research into the possible negative side effects of using nicotine. Despite this most studies are showing the potential positive outcomes of using nicotine.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) to quit smoking

NRT is a popular method to help chronic smokers quit the habit which is linked with lung cancer. This is done using vaporizers, transdermal patch, gums or lozenges which are considered to be safer alternatives to cigarette smoking. It is extremely effective at eliminating the risks associated with smoking.

Focus and Concentration

Nicotine is a stimulant similar to caffeine which helps with keeping the mind alert and focused and improving overall concentration. [1]

It also keeps the brain in a relaxed alpha state necessary for sharp focus and concentration. [2]

Nicotine can reduce ADHD symptoms

Nicotine can reduce ADHD symptoms and improve attention span which makes it a safer alternative to other conventional medications which are likely to have negative side effects. [3]

Nicotine enhances memory and learning

There are many studies and research revealing numerous benefits of nicotine for improving memory. One study suggests that this could be because nicotine increases the vasopressin hormone which has been linked with cognitive enhancement and is a popular nootropic for cognitive enhancement. Studies suggest that it can increase the speed with which the brain processes information. Nicotine can help with long term memory and memory consolidation which involves the transfer of short-term memory into long-term memory. [4]

Nicotine also binds to several types of nicotinic receptors which affects the brain in specific ways. Some of which includes controlling attention, memory consolidation and motor function. Nicotine behaves the same way in the brain as acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that plays an important role in the brain for the formation of memories. [5]

Nicotine Boosts Creativity and Reduces Procrastination

Nicotine helps the brain stay awake and alert and may help you to be more productive. This may be due to the relaxing alpha brain waves which nicotine induces.

Although there is not enough studies conducted on whether nicotine increases creativity there are some studies that reveals use of nicotine increases activity between the two hemispheres of the brain. Nicotine can increase alpha brain waves similar to L-theanine which may boost creativity. [6] [7]. Nicotine increases certain neural activity between the two hemispheres of the brain creating a whole brain state. Some people use binaural beats to create a state in which both hemisphere of the brain are active. This combined activity may help with unleashing creative potential.

The relaxing effects of nicotine may also play a part in helping with creativity. Because of nicotine’s effect on brain wave levels it has the potential to reduce stress and lower levels of stress means an even flow of mental state to prohibit feelings of procrastination.

Nicotine can provide neuroprotection

Some studies have shown resistance to the neuro-degenerative effects of toxins that closely resembled Parkinson’s disease which indicates nicotine may have nuero protective effect on the brain. [8]

Nicotine can prevent and treat Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s 

There are numerous studies showing potential for nicotine to help with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. These studies have found smokers to have less risk of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s and many studies are also showing the benefits of nicotine for people with these conditions [9]. The risk of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s in nonsmokers has generally been about twice that of smokers. [10]

Nicotine Reduces inflammation

Some studies have shown that nicotine can reduce inflammation as it helps to block estrogen. Levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are linked with age related inflammation. [11]

Nicotine can help grow new blood vessels

Nicotine may have some benefits for blood vessels. Nicotine can assist with the growth of new blood vessels and may help with treating circulation problems and conditions with circulation problems. [12] [13]

Nicotine helps with depression

There are some studies using a Nicotine patch showing a decrease in symptoms related to depression. Short term use of nicotine can have anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects. [14] [15]

Other health benefits of nicotine

Nicotine can also provide protection against other conditions including those suffering from Tourette’s syndrome, ulcerative colitis, colorectal cancer and delay rheumatoid arthritis. [16] [17] [18][19]

There are some benefits of growing tobacco in the garden as it acts as a natural repellent for some garden pests.

Agonist / Synergist

Nicotine acts as an acetylcholine receptor agonist and is chemically similar to a neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Nicotinic agonists are chemicals or drugs that act similar to acetylcholine (Ach) at the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nACHRs) which are receptor proteins that respond to acetylcholine. The nicotinic acetylcholine receptors have an affinity for nicotine which is why it includes the name ‘nicotinic’.  nAChRs respond to nicotine as well as other nicotinic agonists which includes nicotine, acetylcholine, choline, cytisine, lobeline, epibatidine and varenicline


Nicotinic antagonist. A nicotinic antagonist is a type of anticholinergic drug that inhibits the action of acetylcholine (ACh) at nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. Any drugs that inhibit the action of acetylcholine will also inhibit the action of nicotine. This includes nicotinic antagonists. Some nicotinic antagonists include Hexamethonium, Mecamylamine, Trimethaphan, Atracurium, Doxacurium, Mivacurium, Pancuronium, Tubocurarine, Vecuronium, Succinylcholine, 18-Methoxycoronaridine Dextromethorphan, Dextrorphan, 3-Methoxymorphinan. However many of these have mainly been used during surgery for muscle paralysis and are not readily available although mecamylamine and 18-methoxycoronaridine have been shown to block nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and have the potential for treating drug addiction and also nicotine addiction. [20] [21]

Bupropion an antidepressant drug has been shown to block the effects of nicotine. [22] [23]

Food Sources of Nicotine

Fruits, vegetables from the nightshade family contain various amounts of nicotine and mostly found in tobacco. Other nightshade contain only small amounts such as potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant as well as tobacco. Unripe green tomatoes contain higher amounts of nicotine however are unsafe to eat. However it is unsafe to eat unripe tomatoes in high amounts. Cauliflower also contains a small amount of nicotine.

Although fruits and vegetables from the nightshade family contain nicotine, you would need to consume a large amount to derive a substantial dose of nicotine. Tobacco is a high source of nicotine.

There are no RDA for nicotine and it is not classed as essential.

Nicotine Supplementation

In recent times there have been many studies and research conducted into the potential health benefits of Nicotine. It is now becoming popular as a nootropic, however whilst there are many positive benefits unfortunately some negative side effects may ensue. It is recommended that for the purpose of using as a nootropic or for some of the numerous benefits to take only a small dose.

For example for people who are not smokers it would be drastic and potentionally dangerous to take a dose that might be suitable for a chronic smoker using NRT.

While there are many benefits of nicotine, when using as a nootropic or to relieve symptoms of certain conditions it is advisable to use low dose due to its potentially addictive nature.

There are many reasons why people may choose to supplement with nicotine. It has been used as a nootropic for cognitive enhancement. Others also use it for dream enhancement as the nicotine absorbed during sleep suppress PGO waves which causes a person to retain waking awareness during the dream state.  

Nicotine is popularly used to quit smoking. The following are the various different methods of nicotine intake.

Smoking cigarettes

One of the most popular way people consume nicotine is through smoking. Cigarettes contain 8mg-20 mg of nicotine and most will be dependent on the quality of tobacco. CDC data shows that the smoker absorbs roughly 1mg of nicotine. [24]

One benefit of smoking is that it contains anatabine another compound found in tobacco which has also been used in some anti-smoking supplements. Anatabine has anti-inflammatory properties and shows promise and can be useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. However because anatabine is commercially available, smoking is not necessary to obtain this compound. It is available under the brand name Anatabloc.

Smoking is well known to cause one of the most preventable cause of death throughout the world. Fortunately there are alternatives to consuming nicotine without the negative effects of smoking.

The following are alternative ways nicotine is absorbed without smoking and also used in NRT to help people quit the unhealthy habit of smoking:

Nicotine Gums

Most gums and chews contain 2-4mg per piece. It is recommended to not use more than 15 pieces in a day.

Chewing nicotine gum releases 2-4 mg and usually takes between 20-30 minutes. Addiction to nicotine gum is possible but rare. Unfortunately nicotine gum contains aspartame as well as other artificial sweeteners which with long term use could pose health risks.

Nicotine Lozenges

Nicotine lozenges are similar to nicotine gum in that they come in 2mg-4mg dose and also contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame as well as other ingredients that are unhealthy such as magnesium stearate. Nicorette mini-lozenges may be the safest product to use as it does not contain aspartame. However they do contain minimal amounts of other additives. It is possible to make homemade lozenges using pure e-liquid however may not be ideal as it poses risk of toxicity if it is incorrectly dosed.

Nicotine Patches

Nicotine patches come in higher doses with the highest being 21mg. These patches have a time-release formula that usually release nicotine over a 24 hour period.

Although nicotine patches contain more nicotine than the gum or lozenges do they are absorbed via the skin slowly throughout the day rather than all at once or shorter time.

Nicotine patches are expensive usually being the same price for the available doses and because of this some people may decide to cut the patches of higher dosed patches to save money. However it is usually labelled on the packaging to not cut the nicotine patches. The reason may be because it can alter the way the patch was designed to work which is to use a 24 hour time release. Although substances from the patch do not immediately flow out after cutting the patch, the dosage rate will no longer be effectively controlled. It is also possible that because of the cut edges this may cause the nicotine to evaporate.

You may also get too much nicotine from one part of the patch and very little from the other cut patch. However there is not enough research or information to suggest that cutting the patches can pose health issues. When in doubt it is best to follow manufacturer’s instructions. You could potentially overdose on nicotine or poison yourself using a cut patch or a high dose that may not be suitable for you.

Taking sudden high amounts of nicotine can make you feel sick especially if you are not a smoker.

A safe way to make the patch last longer is to keep the backing. Once you have used the patch for half the day rather than 24 hours or if you wish to not use it during sleeping simply place the patch on the backing and save to reapply the next day.

Another method is to remove half of the backing layer only, apply the patch to the skin. You can then cover over the whole patch with tape. The following day you can remove the patch and reapply using the other part covering the exposed part of the patch already used. However most patches come with aluminium backing and this may not feel comfortable.

You can talk to a pharmacist or doctor before trying this method or for any cutting methods that may be safe.

Vaporizing and E-cigarettes

The health effects of using vaporizing or E-cigarettes is unknown as use of it is fairly new.

There may be some concerns about nanoparticles of heavy metals from e-cigarettes combustion chambers which may be absorbed by inhalation. For some it may cause throat irritation however it may be beneficial for those trying to quit a chronic habit of smoking cigarettes to help break hold of the psychological factors of smoking, ie holding an e-cigarette.

Nicotine spray

Nicotine spray can provide up to 150 sprays with each spray providing 1mg of nicotine. There are other ingredients in the spray such as sucralose but the amounts are very minimal.

It is one of the easiest method to use and does not require chewing or sucking as lozenges do. This method can provide an instant fix whether you are using it for cognitive function or quit smoking. They are relatively expensive and each spray can contain as much as the highest dosed nicotine patch with the difference being the spray provides instant release whereas patches release over a long period of time.

Nicotine inhalers

Nicotine inhalers are just like sprays where they provide instant release of nicotine this is because inhaling it is absorbed by the lungs and readily effects the chemical changes in the brain. These will be most effective especially for smokers who are used to absorbing nicotine via inhalation. The benefits of using an inhaler is that there are no additional additives or chemicals that are usually found in other methods such as the spray and lozenges. However because it is being inhaled and the absorption rate instantly effecting brain chemicals you may find the nicotine content to be addictive.

Liquid drops

Liquid drops seems to be favored amongst nootropic users. It is simply using a pure nicotine base commonly used with e cigarettes however without the addition of flavors for those who want to make their own flavored e-liquids and apply very minimal drops on the skin. The e-liquid is available in different concentrations starting from 1.5mg/ml up to 36mg/ml. In the United Kingdom the legal limit for the sale of nicotine is 18mg. This delivery method may be a lot safer if dose is applied correctly which will need to be calculated and also more cost effective than any of the other methods. They usually come in dropper bottles with an approximation of nicotine per drop. [25]

The method is to apply the correct amount of drops and massage into the skin. This has not been recommended for those trying to quit smoking and mostly used by those whose purpose is to use nicotine as a nootropic for enhancing cognitive function. There may be some risks associated with the use of liquid drops and caution should be used as it can easily be spilled and if absorbed can cause toxicity. This is a highly dangerous method and prone to risks which is why it cannot be recommended. If using this method it is best to buy a very low dosed concentration per ml of nicotine and avoid the higher range such as 18mg/ml, 24mg/ml which is too high. A high amount of concentrated nicotine is toxic and life threatening.

Eliquids are available in the United Kingdom at as well as many vendors in the United States.

Chewing tobacco

The amount of nicotine found in chewing tobacco can vary as it is dependent on quality of tobacco, brand and type. The amounts of nicotine can be in the range of 0.5-6 mg per dose.

Chewing tobacco can cause mouth and throat cancer so it is not a healthy alternative and not recommended even to use as part of NRT.

Swedish snus

1g of Swedish snus contains up to 10mg of nicotine however only 1-2mg of the nicotine is usually absorbed making this ineffective. Swedish snus has also been linked to mouth and throat cancer. Just like chewing tobacco it poses other health risks and is not recommended.

To avoid the risk of a nicotine addiction it is best to use small doses should be used spread over the week, especially if you are a non-smoker.

Most smokers are able to titrate dose of nicotine using small puffs or long puffs for the desired effect. The amount of nicotine administered by the alternative methods will also usually be self-determined by the individual until they desired effect is reached.

Dosage can range between 0.2-8.0 mg with a medium range between 1-4 mg.

Deficiency Symptoms of Nicotine

There are no known deficiency symptoms of nicotine.

Side Effects and Toxicity Symptoms of Nicotine

One of the most common side effects of Nicotine is the possibility of addiction.

Nicotine is also highly toxic to smaller animals.

Nicotine is highly toxic between the ranges of 30 to 60mg and is enough to kill a 160 lb person in just one hour. Nicotine can also cause many toxic side effects at 21mg especially for those who do not smoke and taking it suddenly. This is why on many nicotine replacement therapy products they are not recommended for nonsmokers and have specific doses for different types of smokers. At 30 to 60 mg of Nicotine is a fatal dose and can cause death. Nicotine toxicity is similar to exposure to organophosphate insecticides and certain nerve agents.

Toxic effects of nicotine are similar to excess acetylcholine which in high amounts can cause destruction of brain tissues. The following are symptoms of a nicotine overdose (If any of the following symptoms of overdose occur while taking nicotine, seek medical attention immediately):

  • Vomiting – can begin in just 15 minutes after ingestion or use
  • Seizures
  • Involuntary muscle twitching
  • Abnormal heart rhythms (Fast or irregular heartbeat)
  • Slow heart rate
  • Fluctuating blood pressure
  • Heart failure
  • Muscle paralysis
  • Excess fluid in the lungs’ air passages
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Pounding in the ears
  • Weakness
  • Sweating
  • Diarrhoea
  • Stomach pains
  • Nervousness
  • Excessive salivation
  • Tremor
  • Hypertension
  • Tachycardia
  • Ataxia

Hives, itching, rash, redness or swelling of the skin may be due to using nicotine patch on same area of skin which is why many manufacturers instruct users to change area for the patch to avoid this.

The following are nicotine withdrawal symptoms:

  • Intense cravings for nicotine
  • Tingling in the hands and feet
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and intestinal cramping
  • Insomnia
  • Coughing, sore throat
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Weight gain

Common Side Effects

Some nicotine side effects may not need any medical attention. The following side effects may not require immediate medical attention however if in doubt or the symptoms do not go away lower dose or stop completely and seek medical attention. These symptoms are a good indicator to reduce dosage or completely stop using nicotine:

  • Mouth sores, blisters, or irritation
  • Sore throat
  • Acid or sour stomach
  • Belching
  • Heartburn
  • Hiccups
  • Mouth, tooth, jaw, or neck pain
  • Problems with teeth

Precautions and warnings

Nicotine in most circumstances can be addictive especially for those who smoke to obtain nicotine. Although nicotine is beginning to show many positive there are also negative side effects however most of these are due to an overdose or a toxic amount of nicotine.

Although tobacco is unhealthy, nicotine in alternative forms without the excessive carcinogenic overload of tobacco does have some benefits.

The following are some of the risks associated with nicotine:

Nicotine can increase tumor growth – nicotine can increase capillary blood vessel growth which although positive in some situations especially blood circulation related conditions which is associated with those who have diabetes, this can also lead to the growth of tumor which can further lead to the growth of certain forms of cancer such as lung cancers. Cancer from tobacco carcinogens are a common factor. If you have cancer it is best to avoid nicotine.

Nicotine can increase tumor growth in colon, pancreas, breast, and larynx. Tobacco may be a much greater culprit in the growth of these types of tumors and cancer growth due to its high levels of numerous carcinogens. However, nicotine is not classed as a carcinogen.

Low prefrontal cortex in adolescent user – teenagers and young adults up to the age of 25 should refrain from use of nicotine as it can impair the growth of the prefrontal cortex which can cause risk of cognitive impairment in the growing brain. In addition to this young users are likely to develop mental and behavioral problems later in life which includes depression, agoraphobia, panic disorder and personality disorders. If teenagers or young adults seek some of the cognitive enhancing benefits of nicotine, L-theanine may be a safer alternative.

Nicotine can be addictive – nicotine has the potential of becoming addictive. Many people are also addicted to cigarette smoking due to addiction to nicotine. However NRT therapy in this case may help to curb the habit. Those who have a tendency addiction or an addictive personality may want to avoid nicotine and use a safer alternative such as L-theanine.

Nicotine can increase cocaine addiction – nicotine has the ability to inhibit certain enzymes which are chromatin-modifying, this process can increase the ability of cocaine to cause an addiction.

Quitting nicotine can cause undesired withdrawal symptoms – building a tolerance to nicotine and then suddenly quitting can cause several withdrawal problems. This can make quitting nicotine difficult. Quitting nicotine as in the case for many smokers may cause strong cravings for the substance which includes increased appetite, anxiety, anger, frustration, depression, irritability, restlessness, sleep disturbances and gastrointestinal problems,. Unlike L-theanine, nicotine is not a direct sedative or a relaxant with some studies showing that the relaxing and calming effect is due to relieving the symptoms of withdrawal.

Nicotine Increases Risk of H pylori infection – H. pylori infection seems to be common in smokers. It is best to avoid nicotine by people who suffer from H pylori infection as nicotine can make eradicating the infection less effective. Nicotine has shown to increase toxic activity in the stomach with those who suffer from H. pylori infection in the stomach

Nicotine increases anxiety with long term use - chronic use can increase anxiety and depression following withdrawal symptoms

Using tobacco for nicotine in any form is best avoided due to the levels of carcinogenic substances. Tobacco also is likely to contain mold due to production methods.

Tobacco smoke is unhealthy for pregnant women and poses major risk to the newborn exposed to tobacco smoke. There are not enough studies on NRT to conclude whether it is safer during pregnancy and the effects it has on the fetus with the use of nicotine. [26]

Nicotine may be considered an acetylcholine agonist and caution should be exercised so as not to take too much as excess acetylcholine receptors can destroy brain tissue.

Nicotine is easy to overdose on and those using patches, gums or lozenges should exercise caution as it is easier to take too much using these alternative methods.

Safer alternative to nicotine for some of the similar health benefits includes L-theanine, caffeine, kava-kava, passionflower, calamus and lavender.