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What is Nicotine? | Chemistry, Use Cases, Dosage & Side Effects

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Nicotine is a highly addictive substance found in tobacco leaves that is known for its stimulating effects on the human brain and body. It has been used for centuries in various forms, such as smoking, chewing, or vaping, for recreational, medicinal, and cultural purposes. 

Despite its popularity, nicotine is also associated with several health risks and adverse effects, including addiction, heart disease, respiratory problems, and cancer. In this article, we will explore the chemistry of nicotine, its use cases, dosage recommendations, and potential side effects, shedding light on one of the most widely used and controversial substances in the world.

Chemical Composition 

Legal Status 


C₁₀H₁₄N₂ Legal CAS Number 54-11-5 

PubChem CID 89594

Nicotine High Level Fact Sheet

This high level fact sheet provides an overview of nicotine, including its chemical composition, legal status, clinical data, and potential side effects. Whether you are a smoker, vaper, or simply interested in learning more about this complex and controversial substance, it provides valuable insights into one of the most widely consumed drugs in the world.

Nicotine Chemical Composition

Nicotine’s chemical formula is C10H14N2. It is an alkaloid, which means it is a nitrogen-containing compound with basic properties.

Nicotine Legal Status

In the United States, nicotine is legal but heavily regulated. Nicotine-containing products, such as cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products, are subject to age restrictions and other regulations to limit their use and promote public health. The legal age to purchase tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco, is 21 years old in all US states and territories. 

Nicotine Clinical Data

Nicotine is classified as a stimulant drug, meaning it increases activity in the central nervous system. It is also classified as an alkaloid, a type of naturally occurring nitrogen-containing organic compound.

Nicotine is commonly known by its trade names in various nicotine-containing products, such as:

  • Nicorette (nicotine gum)
  • Nicoderm CQ (nicotine patch)
  • Nicotrol (nicotine nasal spray)
  • Nicotrol Inhaler (nicotine inhaler)
  • Varenicline (Chantix) and Bupropion (Zyban), two prescription medications that help people quit smoking by reducing nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms

Some of the street names for nicotine include “smokes,” “cigs,” “cigarettes,” “vapes,” and “e-cigs.” These names are often used to refer to tobacco or e-cigarette products that contain nicotine, rather than nicotine itself.

Nicotine Use Cases:

While it is commonly associated with smoking and tobacco use, nicotine has a long history of use in various forms and for various purposes. In this section, we will explore the different use cases of nicotine, from its medical applications to its recreational use and performance enhancement.


Nicotine has some potential medical benefits, particularly in the treatment of certain neurological disorders. Studies have shown that nicotine can improve cognitive function in individuals with certain conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia. 

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products, such as nicotine patches and gum, are also commonly used to help people quit smoking by reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Performance Enhancement:

Nicotine has been shown to enhance cognitive and physical performance in some studies. It has been suggested that nicotine may improve attention, reaction time, and working memory. 

Some athletes and performers have used nicotine as a way to enhance their performance, although the use of nicotine as a performance enhancer is generally discouraged and banned in certain sports.


Nicotine is most commonly used for recreational purposes, particularly through smoking and vaping. While smoking is the most common way to consume nicotine, vaping has become increasingly popular in recent years. 

Nicotine is known to produce a pleasant, calming sensation and can enhance the effects of other substances, such as caffeine and alcohol. However, it is important to note that nicotine is highly addictive and can lead to numerous health risks and adverse effects.

Nicotine dosages by form and strength:

Nicotine is available in various forms and strengths, and the appropriate dosage depends on several factors, such as age, weight, and the reason for use. Here is a brief overview of nicotine dosages by form and strength:

  • Cigarettes: The amount of nicotine in cigarettes can vary widely depending on the brand and type. On average, a single cigarette contains about 10-12 mg of nicotine, although some cigarettes may contain as little as 6 mg or as much as 30 mg.
  • Nicotine Gum: Nicotine gum comes in various strengths, typically ranging from 2-4 mg per piece. The recommended dosage depends on the individual’s smoking habits and level of nicotine dependence, but it is generally recommended to start with a lower dose and gradually increase as needed.
  • Nicotine Lozenges: Nicotine lozenges also come in various strengths, ranging from 1-4 mg per piece. The recommended dosage depends on the individual’s smoking habits and level of nicotine dependence.
  • Nicotine Patches: Nicotine patches come in different strengths, ranging from 7-21 mg per patch. The appropriate dosage depends on the individual’s smoking habits and level of nicotine dependence, but it is generally recommended to start with a lower strength patch and gradually increase as needed.
  • Nicotine Inhalers: Nicotine inhalers typically deliver 4 mg of nicotine per puff. The recommended dosage depends on the individual’s smoking habits and level of nicotine dependence.

It is important to note that nicotine can be highly addictive and should be used only as directed to avoid nicotine overdose. It is also important to consult with a healthcare provider before using nicotine products, particularly if you have any underlying medical conditions or are taking other medications.

Nicotine Side Effects:

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that can cause a range of side effects, both in the short and long term. Here is a breakdown of the common and serious side effects of nicotine, as well as its long-term effects:

Common Side Effects on Nicotine:

Some common side effects of nicotine include:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Changes in appetite

Serious Side Effects on Nicotine: 

Some serious side effects of nicotine include:

  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Severe allergic reactions
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vision changes
  • Behavioral changes or mood swings
  • Symptoms of nicotine poisoning (such as vomiting, seizures, or difficulty breathing)

Nicotine Long Term Effects:

Some long term effects of nicotine use are:

  • Increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Decreased lung function
  • Reduced fertility in both men and women
  • Increased risk of gum disease and tooth loss
  • Addiction and dependence on nicotine

Nicotine Addiction: 

Nicotine addiction is a complex and serious issue that affects millions of people worldwide. Nicotine, a highly addictive substance found in tobacco products, works by stimulating the release of dopamine in the brain, which creates a sense of pleasure and reward. With repeated use, the brain becomes dependent on nicotine to feel this pleasure, leading to addiction. 

Nicotine addiction can have a range of negative effects on physical and mental health, including increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer, as well as anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. Luckily there are plenty of treatment options to help you break-free from the chains of nicotine addiction.

Types of Drug Treatment for Nicotine Addiction

There are several types of treatment for nicotine addiction, ranging from inpatient rehab to outpatient programs. Here are some of the most common types of drug treatment for nicotine addiction:

  • Inpatient Rehab: Inpatient rehab programs provide 24-hour care and support for individuals struggling with nicotine addiction. Patients live at the treatment facility and receive a range of services, including medical detox, individual and group therapy, and relapse prevention education.
  • Outpatient Rehab: Outpatient rehab programs allow individuals to receive treatment while living at home or in a sober living facility. Outpatient programs can vary in intensity, from basic counseling sessions to more comprehensive programs that include group therapy, education, and support.
  • Intensive Outpatient: Intensive outpatient programs provide more comprehensive treatment than traditional outpatient programs but do not require individuals to live at a treatment facility. Patients typically attend treatment for several hours per day, several days per week.
  • Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP): PHPs are a step below inpatient rehab, providing intensive treatment during the day but allowing patients to return home at night. Patients typically receive several hours of treatment per day, several days per week, and may receive medical and psychiatric care as needed.

Each type of drug treatment for nicotine addiction has its own advantages and disadvantages, and the appropriate treatment will depend on the individual’s specific needs and preferences. It is important to seek guidance from a healthcare professional or addiction specialist when selecting a treatment program.

Nicotine Withdrawal:  

Nicotine withdrawal occurs when a person who is addicted to nicotine stops using it or reduces their intake. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe and can make it difficult for individuals to quit using nicotine. 

Some common nicotine withdrawal symptoms are cravings, irritability, anxiety, depression, insomnia, increased appetite, headaches, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and restlessness. These symptoms can begin within a few hours of the last use of nicotine and can last for several days or even weeks.

Commonly Seen Nicotine Drug Combinations: 

It is important to note that mixing any drugs with nicotine can be dangerous and can lead to unpredictable and harmful effects. Here are a few commonly seen nicotine drug combinations:

  1. Nicotine and caffeine: Many people enjoy the combination of nicotine and caffeine as they both act as stimulants. However, this combination can lead to increased heart rate, anxiety, and insomnia.
  2. Nicotine and alcohol: Nicotine can increase the effects of alcohol, making it easier to become intoxicated. This can also lead to increased heart rate and blood pressure, as well as impaired judgment and coordination.
  3. Nicotine and psilocybin: The combination of nicotine and psilocybin, a hallucinogenic compound found in certain mushrooms, can lead to unpredictable and potentially dangerous effects on the mind and body. It is not recommended to mix nicotine with psilocybin.
  4. Nicotine and Adderall: Adderall is a stimulant medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. When Adderall is combined with nicotine, the effects of both substances can be amplified, leading to increased heart rate and blood pressure, anxiety, and insomnia. It is important to talk to a healthcare professional before mixing these substances.

It is crucial to note that using any drugs in combination with nicotine can increase the risk of addiction and other negative health effects. It is always recommended to seek medical guidance and avoid using multiple substances at once.

Nicotine Facts and Statistics:

Here are some important facts and statistics related to nicotine use:

  1. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, with an estimated 480,000 deaths annually.
  2. In addition to its health effects, nicotine use can also have financial and social consequences. Smokers spend an average of $2,000 to $4,000 per year on cigarettes, and smoking is often banned in public places, making it difficult for smokers to socialize.
  3. The use of nicotine products among teenagers has been a growing concern in recent years. According to the CDC, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students in the United States used e-cigarettes in 2020.
  4. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are approximately 1.3 billion tobacco users globally, and tobacco use kills more than 8 million people each year.
  5. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 14% of adults (34.1 million people) are current cigarette smokers.
  6. E-cigarette use, which also delivers nicotine, has been on the rise in recent years. According to the CDC, in 2020, approximately 19.6% of high school students and 4.7% of middle school students in the United States reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.

Overall, nicotine use remains a significant public health concern worldwide, with high rates of use and negative health impacts.

Nicotine History and Cultural Impact: 

Nicotine is a highly addictive drug found in tobacco leaves, and its use has a long history dating back to the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The drug was first introduced to Europeans by Christopher Columbus during his voyages to the New World in the late 15th century. 

Nicotine was initially used for medicinal purposes, and smoking became popular in the 16th century among wealthy Europeans. The use of tobacco and nicotine quickly spread worldwide, becoming a cultural phenomenon with various social, economic, and health impacts. 

The negative health consequences of nicotine and tobacco use are well documented, and governments worldwide have implemented policies to curb smoking. Numerous celebrities and personalities, including former U.S. President Barack Obama and musician Frank Sinatra have struggled with nicotine addiction. 

Films like “Thank You for Smoking” and “The Insider” have explored the cultural and economic impact of nicotine and tobacco use. Today, nicotine remains a major public health concern worldwide, and efforts to reduce its use and impact continue.

Nicotine Identifiers 

Here is a table featuring nicotine identifiers:

Identifier Name Identifier Code
CAS Number 54-11-5 
PubChem CID 89594
DrugBank DB00184
ChemSpider 80863
KEGG D03365
ChEBI 18723
CompTox Dashboard (EPA) DTXSID1020930
ECHA InfoCard 100.000.177

Bottom Line: Nicotine in the United States 

Overall, nicotine use is a serious public health issue with numerous negative consequences for both individual users and society as a whole. It is important to seek medical guidance when trying to quit nicotine use and to educate young people on the risks associated with nicotine products.


Warren Phillips

Warren is a Licensed Master Social Worker, who specializes in substance abuse and mental health treatment. Clinically, Warren has developed a therapeutic skillset that utilizes a strengths-based perspective, Twelve Step philosophies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing.

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