Nicotine is a hotly debated topic. It’s often mentioned in connection with discussions about tobacco and tobacco products – despite the fact that the harmful effects that arise from the combustion of tobacco (smoking) have nothing to do with the nicotine itself.
It can also be addictive. However, different products can lead to varying degrees of addiction. And the nicotine itself does not cause cancer.
Below we’ve assembled answers to some of the most common questions about nicotine.
What is nicotine?
Nicotine is a substance found naturally in the tobacco plant. It acts as a defence mechanism for the plant, protecting it from insect infestation. It is classified as an alkaloid. Alkaloids are a collection of substances found in the plant kingdom and that often have a medicinal effect on animals and humans. Other alkaloids include caffeine and morphine. The tobacco plant belongs potato family (also referred to as nightshades) and nicotine is also found in small amounts in other species in this plant family, such as tomatoes and potatoes.
How is it absorbed in the body?
The four most common routes are through the mouth, lungs, skin, and through the mucous membranes of the nose.
When you use snus, nicotine is absorbed into the mucous membrane of the mouth and carried via the bloodstream to the brain. This means that nicotine from snus is not absorbed as quickly as it is from smoking.
How quickly the body absorbs nicotine can also have an effect on how addictive it is. Like snus, nicotine therapies such as patches or gums, also have a lower absorption rate than cigarettes and are therefore not as addictive.
Is nicotine dangerous?
It isn’t a health product but it is also not dangerous for most adults if consumed in moderation. However, high doses can lead to side effects that are reminiscent of how the body reacts to excessive doses of caffeine from coffee or energy drinks. These side effects include palpitations, tremors, and nausea.
Children and adolescents are particularly sensitive to it and should therefore not use products containing nicotine. This is also why snus and other products have an 18-year age limit.
It should also not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women. Nicotine in the bloodstream passes into the mother’s milk and can also have an effect on the growth of the fetus as the blood circulation in the placenta is affected.
It should also not be used by people with various types of heart problems or people who have had disorders affecting blood circulation to the brain.
Nicotine does not cause cancer.
How does nicotine affect the body?
When nicotine is absorbed by the body, a number of signalling substances are released in the brain’s reward system.
In most people, this leads to an increase in their sense of well-being. For many, nicotine also has both a calming and invigorating effect. These feelings also lead to it having an addictive effect.
It also affects blood circulation and causes the heart rate and blood pressure to rise.
In low doses, it has a stimulating effect on the nervous system, which leads to an increased feeling of alertness. In larger doses, it has a calming effect on the nervous system, which leads to a feeling of being more relaxed.
When does it leave the body?
How long it takes for the nicotine to leave the body varies, but it’s usually completely gone from the body within one to two weeks after you have stopped using it.
Because the brain becomes accustomed to nicotine, users can therefore get feelings of withdrawal when they stop using it. Withdrawal symptoms can vary. Examples include difficulty sleeping, headaches, or irritability.
How much nicotine is found in snus?
Usually it is between 0.8 percent up to 2.0 precent for “extra strong”. There are also products on the market with even higher amounts. Nicotine may not be added to snus, as snus is a food product.
Previously, the nicotine content was stated as a percentage on snus cans, but after the EU Tobacco Directive was implemented in 2016, Swedish snus manufacturers are no longer allowed to state this on the packaging.
However, snus manufacturer Swedish Match has chosen to state nicotine levels for all its products on the company’s website.
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