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Legal Status
US Law-green.png Legal (unscheduled)
Minimum age may apply
Drug Information
FDA Classification Drug
Class Stimulant
Addiction Risk Addiction-red.png High
Therapeutic Index CDC: Addiction-yellow.png Moderate (30-50)[1]
Ind: Addiction-green.png High (200+)[2]

Nicotine is a stimulant found naturally in tobacco plants. It is also commonly sold in gum (Nicorette, Zonnic) and in vaporizer liquid.

Nicotine dosage is variable with traditional cigarette consumption, with the average dose per cigarette ranging from 1 mg to 2 mg. However, with newer electronic cigarettes (vaporizers), dosage has become more transparent and reliable.

Nicotine and tobacco are legal in virtually all countries, with varying restrictions and regulations. In the United States, tobacco is the second-most used drug after alcohol and excluding caffeine,[3] and followed by cannabis.

Despite being widely available worldwide with few restrictions, nicotine is considered one of the most addictive drugs in common use.[4] It should be noted, however, that nicotine itself is not known to cause cancer or substantially harm one's health, with the UK NHS calling e-cigarettes "95% less harmful than smoking."[5]

Legality and Availability[edit]

Tobacco and nicotine are largely unrestricted worldwide. The smoking age varies by country (if a smoking age is established) and subjurisdiction. However, such restrictions are often difficult to enforce. In the United States and other countries, tobacco products can be purchased online without age verification.

Addiction Profile[edit]


Nicotine is a highly addictive substance. Many studies demonstrate that the "capture rate" of nicotine (usually cited at over 30%) is one of the highest if not the highest of any drug, including heroin (around 20% to 25%).[6]

The health effects of consuming nicotine regularly depend on the method of consumption. Smoked tobacco is generally considered to be the most dangerous form, due to the risk of lung cancer and other illnesses. Cigars are often considered safer than cigarettes, because most cigar users do not inhale the smoke. Nicotine by itself, for instance, when taken with a transdermal patch or vaporized in a glycerin/glycol e-liquid solution, is not very harmful in the amounts typically consumed, although it may increase the risk of heart problems.

Tobacco versus extract[edit]

Studies suggest that, nicotine levels being equal, tobacco is more addictive than pure nicotine. This may be because of other active ingredients found in tobacco, which may have antidepressant properties.[7]

Medical Effects[edit]

Various toxic chemicals are present in tobacco smoke, and smoking is associated with an increased risk for Alzheimer's Disease. However, nicotine itself may protect against such diseases. Preliminary results show a neuroprotective effect against Parkinson's[8]. Even inhaled tobacco smoke may offer a modest decrease in the risk of Parkinson's[9].


The amount of nicotine delivered and absorbed from one cigarette is contested. 1 mg to 2 mg is commonly cited, while some studies estimate the actual amount may be as high as 3 mg.[10] Due to varying potencies and formulations of commercial cigarettes, and varying behavior of smokers, an exact amount cannot be reliably determined.

Vaporizers deliver nicotine that is absorbed more slowly than smoked tobacco.[11] Inhaled tobacco reaches peak blood plasma levels six times faster than vapor.


  6. p. 65