Nicotine Overdose

By Dr. Annie Macpherson
Updated: 2019-09-13

Overdose In Nicotine Is On The Rise

Overdose in nicotine occurs when someone has ingested too much nicotine. That can happen in a variety of forms, from skin contact to eating cigarettes and many other forms in between. The CDC reports that nicotine poisoning is on the rise, noting there has been an increase in the report of nicotine poisoning symptoms to poison centers over the last several years.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) noted that the report of nicotine poisoning symptoms that were related to the use of e-cigarettes increased by 300 percent from 2012 to 2014 in the United States.

Threshold for Nicotine Poisoning

In a nutshell, it doesn’t take much for nicotine poisoning symptoms to occur, and research shows that fatalities from the overdose in nicotine can occur with as little as 10 ml of liquid nicotine.

Generally the size and weight of the individual will determine how much someone can ingest before nicotine poisoning occurs. The Archives of Toxicology reported that 50 to 60 milligrams of nicotine will lead to overdose in nicotine in a 150 pound human.

The California Poison Control System says overdose can occur from liquid nicotine in the amount of 5 ml./kg.

But even a teaspoon of liquid nicotine such as the kind used in e-cigarettes could lead to nicotine poisoning symptoms in children. That form of overdose would be from ingesting the liquid nicotine as a liquid as opposed to vaping it.

The CMAJ reported in their study that more than half of the accidental nicotine poisoning cases reported to poison control centers in 2014 involved children younger than the age of six. The JMT notes that liquid nicotine such as that found in vaping products and e-cigarettes was more likely to cause an overdose in nicotine than other products such as cigarettes and chew tobacco.

The Archives of Toxicology launched a review of today’s literature to examine how much is too much for an overdose in nicotine to occur.

They concluded that ingesting 5 to 6 cigarettes whole in an adult would lead to fatal overdose in nicotine, and 10 ml of diluted nicotine liquid like the kind you find in e-cigarettes could be the magic number for fatalities in adults.

Causes of Nicotine Poisoning

Simply put, overdose in nicotine occurs when you have too much nicotine in your system. Smoking too much, eating cigarettes directly, or intentionally consuming too much liquid nicotine will lead to nicotine poisoning symptoms and even death.

Fatalities arising from overdose in nicotine do happen, and overdose in nicotine is even used in suicide attempts. It would take a lot of cigarettes in a short amount of time for a overdose in nicotine to occur from smoking alone, but ingesting cigarettes by eating them or through liquid nicotine can lead to poisoning symptoms.

Prevention Medicine Reports noted in 2016 that four adults and two children died in the United States died of overdose in nicotine by ingesting liquid nicotine intentionally. Children are attracted to the pretty smells and tastes of the various flavors found in vaping products containing liquid nicotine.

Web MD says that “the majority” of nicotine poisoning cases today are caused through the direct ingestion of liquid nicotine.

But at the same time, there are other ways to contract nicotine poisoning. A disease known as Green Tobacco Sickness occurs in tobacco farmers exposed to nicotine. Nicotine is found in the leaves of tobacco plants, and when the plants are wet, harvesters in contact with the plants can experience a tobacco saturation.

The National Agricultural Safety Database reported on the story of Juan, who began working with wet tobacco leaves early in the morning and by lunchtime was experiencing nicotine poisoning symptoms that was diagnosed as Green Tobacco Sickness. Nicotine contact on your skin can even lead to overdose in nicotine or nicotine poisoning.

Symptoms of Nicotine Poisoning

There are two stages of nicotine poisoning according to Web MD. Symptoms can begin as soon as 15 minutes within coming into contact of nicotine, but can also take up to an hour for nicotine poisoning symptoms to begin. A mild overdose will only last for one or two hours, but a severe overdose can last as long as 24 hours.

In the first stage of overdose in nicotine, general unwellness symptoms are the norm.

  1. Queasy feeling, nausea
  2. Mouth watering
  3. Cardiac symptoms such as faster heart rate and increased blood pressure
  4. Shortness of breath, faster breathing with heavy breath
  5. Pale
  6. Dizziness
  7. Confusion
  8. Stomach problems including pain and/or vomiting
  9. Sweating
  10. Tremors

The second stage of nicotine poisoning symptoms shows the body slowing down. These symptoms can crop up within half an hour to four hours after the consumption of nicotine.

  1. Slower breathing with shallow breath, could lead to complete respiratory failure
  2. Heart rate slows down and blood pressure drops
  3. Weakness and lethargy, slow response to stimulus and muscle problems
  4. Seizures
  5. Diarrhea
  6. Coma
  7. Paralysis

Treatment for Nicotine Poisoning

There is no one size fits all formula for treating a an overdose in nicotine
, but that does not mean that you can’t treat it. The management of symptoms is generally how emergency rooms conduct their treatment of nicotine poisoning symptoms. Canada EM in Medical Concepts reports that activated charcoal is often used to treat nicotine poisoning.

Inducing vomiting without medical supervision is also not advised. Drinking water and hydrating patients in emergency rooms are also common treatments for an overdose in nicotine, but generally the symptoms will be treated as the overall treatment for an overdose in nicotine.

What to do for Nicotine Poisoning

It’s important for anyone that suspects nicotine poisoning to get help immediately, particularly if a large amount has been consumed. Web MD suggests that for severe nicotine poisoning symptoms such as respiratory failure, seizures, or coma, call 911. Drinking water is also advised, but inducing vomiting is not a good idea in someone experiencing a nicotine overdose.

Prevention

The easiest way to prevent overdose in nicotine is to not consume too much nicotine. But to prevent it from happening in the home to someone else, simply keeping any form of nicotine out of reach of children is the best way to prevent it from happening to you. Even discarding the products after use in a way that children and pets can not see them is a good idea to avoid nicotine poisoning.

Outlook

The Archives of Toxicology notes that prognosis is good in mild cases of overdose in nicotine, with nicotine poisoning symptoms easing as soon as a few hours after ingestion and severe cases showing symptoms for as long as 24 hours.

The same review notes that severe symptoms for a significant amount of nicotine poisoning can lead to paralysis, coma, and death. However most nicotine overdoses will result in a good prognosis and complete recovery if medical attention is sought immediately.

Conclusion

Overdose in nicotine is a serious condition, and becoming a serious problem with its increase in the United States and across the world due to an increase in vaping and use of e-cigarettes. A little common sense prevails for those using vaping products for nicotine consumption. An ounce of prevention is a worth a pound of cure. Keeping vaping products out of sight and out of reach of curious children and pets will go a long way towards decreasing your risk for nicotine overdose.

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Dr. Annie Macpherson
Dr. Annie Macpherson

Annie has a PhD in Genome Stability from the University of Sussex. She has first-hand experience in cancer and human disease research. This allows her to provide us with new and unbiased insights into the ongoing research of the public and health effects of vaping. She loves an adventure, and has travelled through South East Asia and Australia working for Vaping Insider.