Vaping and Nicotine Poisoning
By Ivan Srsen Posted April 17, 2018
The vaping community has been pretty successful in shattering various myths about e-cigarettes. There’s a ton of research out there pointing to the fact that vaping is not nearly as dangerous and damaging to health as smoking is. We should all be grateful for that – it gives us ammo for when we’re ambushed by vape skeptics quoting faulty studies and made-up facts.
Personally, I use this vape-positive new research on a daily basis to great effect. Unfortunately, there’s one question that keeps popping up and that’s: ‘What about nicotine poisoning? You know, nicotine is more toxic than arsenic – you can’t defend THAT, surely!’
Well, I can’t defend that, but, then again, it’s not really true. Nicotine is not more toxic than arsenic – a point I will prove a bit later. In fact, a nicotine overdose is hardly achievable with vaping. Lethal nicotine poisoning cases mostly include swallowing nicotine – high concentration mixing bottles, vape juice pods and cartridges, and so on.
However, this doesn’t mean that nicotine is harmless. As many cigar smokers will attest, there’s such a thing as being ‘nic sick’. Basically, it’s mild nicotine poisoning and it can happen to vapers as well, especially those that vape on high nicotine vape juices.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into what nicotine is and how it can affect your body.
What Is Nicotine and How Does It Affect Your Body?
Nicotine is an alkaloidal chemical (C10H14N2) produced by several plants, including the tobacco plant. It is widely used in medicine and pharmacology and is also a herbivore insecticide – plants containing it evolved it as a means of defense. In the past, it was used as a commercial insecticide, but that is no longer permitted in most countries in the world.
All that aside, nicotine came under a spotlight with the ‘invention’ of smoking – more accurately, with the invention of combustible cigarettes. Millions took up the habit without actually knowing how damaging to the health it is. For years, nicotine was blamed for a lot of that damage. However, over the course of the years, we’ve found out that nicotine isn’t really that dangerous (except for certain groups of people with pre-existing conditions). It doesn’t cause cancer and it doesn’t damage the heart. Obviously, nicotine’s most dangerous property is that it’s highly addictive.
Smokers (and vapers) get nicotine into their system through the lungs. It takes roughly around 10-20 seconds for it to enter the bloodstream and find its way to the brain. Once there, it acts as a stimulant, kickstarting various chemical and physical reactions. It causes the adrenal gland to secrete epinephrine, putting the body in the ‘flight or fight’ mode, and it also causes a spike in the levels of blood sugar. However, nicotine’s most dangerous effect is its ability to increase dopamine levels. Dopamine is what we call a ‘pleasure molecule’ – once its effects wear off, the body starts its cravings. That begins a vicious circle of smoking – every time a smoker puts out a cigarette, the clock starts ticking the seconds away until they start yearning for another one.
Will Vaping On Nicotine Kill You?
No, vaping nicotine will most likely not kill you.
If combustible cigarettes delivered only nicotine, we wouldn’t be seeing such a huge death toll ascribed to them. Other chemical compounds created by burning are largely responsible for cigarettes being such a health hazard.
As for nicotine, it was inaccurately believed in the past that as little as 60 mg is lethal to an average person. The value we often find (even on reputable sites) is that its LD50 is 60 mg – LD50 means that it kills roughly half of the people exposed to that amount. However, recent research has shown that nicotine is only fatal in doses of around 500 to 1000 mg (0.5 to 1 gram). In comparison, arsenic has an LD50 of 15 to 30 mg/kg – so no, nicotine is not more poisonous than arsenic.
Let’s put all this into a vaping context. How much would you need to vape to introduce a lethal dose of nicotine into your system? First of all, let’s assume that you’re using an 18 mg vape juice. Another assumption would be that every puff delivers the same amount of nicotine (highly unlikely, but let’s give the math a hand here). Using the old toxicity estimate (60 mg), it would take around 273 puffs to overdose. It’s a lot, but it’s still manageable. However, using the revised toxicity estimate, the number of puffs needed to overdose on nicotine climbs to around 6,000!
Keep in mind that you would have to vape this in two hours tops, since after that nicotine starts breaking apart in your system so its total levels go down. This is virtually impossible to do for two reasons: a) common symptoms (such as nausea and dizziness) would appear pretty soon, so you’d really need to be determined to keep on vaping, and b) it means that you would have to take more than 100 puffs in a minute to achieve it!
Common Symptoms of a Mild Nicotine Overdose
So, we’ve established that vaping on nicotine will not kill you – all you need to do is use a bit of common sense and not vape on ultra high nic concentrations. However, it might make you a little nic sick so it’s good to know the common symptoms of a mild nicotine overdose.
- Stomach cramps
- Overall weakness
Any of these symptoms might be a sign of a mild nicotine overdose. Usually, there’s no need to get alarmed – these symptoms will resolve themselves in a few minutes – an hour at most -, depending on how nic sic you actually are.
However, serious cases of nicotine poisoning will have symptoms that are more severe. These include:
- Fainting or coma
- Muscle twitching
- Burning sensation in the mouth
- Difficulty breathing
- Severe abdominal cramps
If you experience any of these symptoms, you need to get to the doctor as soon as possible. It’s important to note that these are more likely to occur if you ingest liquid nicotine, as it’s pretty difficult to get such high of a dose simply by vaping.
What to Do if You Experience Mild Symptoms of Nicotine Poisoning?
For mild symptoms, there’s usually no need to seek out medical care. Experienced vapers have dealt with it before and have sound advice that you would be wise to keep in mind.
- Stop vaping – seriously, don’t try to ‘power through it’ by taking a few more puffs. These mild symptoms are a warning sign that you need to heed. Put down your vape for a while, lie down, and relax until the symptoms go away. Also, you might want to reduce the level of nicotine in your vape juice if this starts to happen regularly.
- Drink a lot of water – have a couple of glasses of water immediately, even if you find it hard to stomach them. The water will dilute the nicotine content in your body and stop the symptoms from getting worse.
- Wash your hands – this applies for whenever you accidentally get some vape juice (or high-nic concentrate) on your skin. Since nicotine is easily absorbed through the skin, your priority is to get it off it as soon as possible.
- Eat some honey or sugar – a lot of vapers swear by this. It makes sense, since nicotine causes blood sugar to spike immediately, depleting the body’s resources of it. It causes a slight hypoglycemia, which can be corrected by eating or drinking something sugary.
Nicotine Might Be Poisonous But the Chances of Getting Nicotine Poisoning from Vaping Are Slim
That about sums it up. If you’re a responsible vaper who is not deliberately trying to get sick, you have nothing to worry from nicotine itself. Don’t let the fear mongering prevent you from using vaping quit smoking. However, make sure that your vape juices and vaping equipment are safely locked up and out of the reach of children. As responsible adults, we know what’s dangerous and how to protect ourselves from it. Kids don’t have that luxury so you need to keep a close eye on them.
Were you ever nic sick? If you did, do you have any other tricks to share with vapers suffering from mild nicotine poisoning – I’m pretty sure that everyone would be glad to hear them! Pop down to the comment section to leave your two cents.