A Profile of Nicotine

Close up of Nicotine gum
Nicotine gum. STEVE HORRELL/SPL / Getty Images

Nicotine is a colorless, poisonous chemical, derived from the tobacco plant. Nicotine is highly addictive.

How Nicotine is Used

Nicotine is used medicinally in nicotine replacement therapies such as the nicotine patch and nicotine gum. Nicotine is also used as an insecticide.

How Nicotine Affects Brain Chemistry

When a person inhales cigarette smoke, the nicotine in the smoke is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and starts affecting the brain within 10 seconds.

This results in a number of chemical reactions that involve hormones and neurotransmitters such as adrenaline, dopamine and insulin. Within minutes, the nicotine level in the blood drops and the smoker begins to experience feelings of nicotine withdrawal, prompting the urge to light up again. Smoking "pleasure" in reality is simply the relief felt when the nicotine level in the bloodstream is replenished.

How Much Nicotine is in Tobacco Products

The nicotine content in tobacco products varies widely. A manufactured cigarette contains approximately 10 milligrams of nicotine, while a typical cigar has 100 to 200 milligrams of nicotine. Some premium cigars have as much as 400 milligrams of nicotine in them. People who use smokeless tobacco (chew), absorb three to four times the amount of nicotine as do their smoking counterparts, on average.

Nicotine is Extremely Poisonous

One drop of pure nicotine is enough to kill a person.

Smokers receive much smaller doses than that in tobacco products, however. For instance, a cigarette contains approximately 10 milligrams of nicotine, but only one or two milligrams is inhaled directly by the smoker.

Nicotine poisoning most often occurs in young children who accidentally chew on nicotine patches or gum.

Symptoms of Nicotine Poisoning

Symptoms of nicotine poisoning include:

  • Muscular twitching
  • Weakness
  • Convulsions
  • Coma
  • Fainting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid breathing
  • No breathing
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Drooling (increased salivation)
  • Burning sensation in mouth
  • Rapid and pounding heartbeat followed by slow heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure followed by decreased blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Headache
  • Agitation, restlessness, or excitement

What To Do if You Suspect Nicotine Poisoning

If you suspect nicotine poisoning, call your local hospital emergency room, or 1-800-222-1222 anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will put you in touch with experts in poisoning who can advise you about what actions to take.

This hotline is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. If you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention, don't hesitate to call. It does not need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


NIDA Research Report Series - Tobacco Addiction. 2006. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Nicotine. 19 January 2007. Medline Plus.

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