Nicotine: What is it, and where does it come from?
Time to clear the air. The best way to understand nicotine, if you don’t have a lot of chemistry background is to understand table salt. The chemical name for table salt is “sodium chloride”. It is made up of two chemical elements named “sodium” and “chlorine”. Sodium is a soft, dull grey metal that looks a lot like aluminum or lead. Unlike aluminum or lead however, metallic sodium is rather unstable. Drop some of it into water and it immediately bursts into flames. Expose it to air and it reacts with oxygen and water vapor to form white, powdery crystals. It has to be stored in an oxygen free atmosphere to retain its pure, metallic form. Usually, it is stored in oil. Chlorine is a highly toxic gas. When concentrated, it has a pale, yellowish green color. Like sodium, chlorine reacts quickly with just about everything. Chlorine bleach, which has chlorine dissolved in water, allows the water to dissolve wood, paper, cotton, fat, human skin, and just about every living tissue. This is why chlorine kills you pretty quickly if you inhale the stuff. Chlorine gas was one of the first chemical weapons invented and used in World War I. However, mix sodium and chlorine together and the two neutralize each other to form sodium chloride, a harmless, stable chemical compound that we call “table salt”. Small to moderate amounts of sodium chloride are found in every living thing on earth. In fact, without the stuff, a person would get sick and die.
Nicotine has a chemical nature much like sodium. In its pure form, which is called “freebase nicotine”, it reacts chemically with oxygen in the air, with water, and most other living tissues, destroying them instantly. Freebase nicotine is highly poisonous and is sometimes used as an insecticide. It makes a good insecticide because it only lasts about half an hour in the environment, being so unstable in the presence of air. In very small amounts, freebase nicotine can be injected into a person’s bloodstream and has an effect almost identical to cocaine. All green, living plants produce and store nicotine. They use the nicotine to produce another chemcal compound called NADP (nicotinic acid adenine dinucleotide phosphate). NADP is what breaks apart water molecules during photosynthesis. Plants make NADP from nitrates and phosphates found in the soil. The common name for nitrates and phosphates is “fertilizer”.
The secret to how plants store nicotine, without the nicotine killing them, is that they combine it with other things to make more stable compounds. The common forms of nicotine stored in plants are nicotine citrate, nicotine malate, nicotine sulfate, nicotine oxide (cotinine), and nicotinic acid (vitamin B3, niacin). Like table salt, these compounds formed from nicotine are stable, are not poisonous, are not addictive drugs, and are essential to good human health and nutrition. The tobacco plant stores its nicotine as a mixture of nicotine citrate and nicotine malate. The tobacco plant happens to produce a lot off nicotine because it grows quickly. Corn and hemp (marijuana) also produce and store nicotine at roughly the same rate as tobacco, because they also can grow six to ten feet in one season. To give a clear picture of just how unstable freebase nicotine is, let’s look at a few facts about it.
According to the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS), freebase nicotine has the following physical properties: Melting Point: -80 degrees Celsius Boiling Point: 247 degrees Celsius Flash Point: 95 degrees Celsius Auto-Ignition Temperature: 240 degrees Celsius Explosive Limits: 0.7 – 4 percent, by volume, in air Vapor Pressure at Room Temperature: 0.006 kPa The interesting thing to note here is that the auto-ignition temperature is lower than the boiling point. This means that, if you heat freebase nicotine in an air free container, it will detonate (explode) before it boils. Nicotine is so unstable that it does not need to react chemically with anything to have an explosion occur. Its low vapor pressure tells us that nicotine does not evaporate on its own. If you heat it, nicotine will decompose chemically before it boils. Furthermore, in the presence of air, nicotine bursts into flames at a temperature just below the boiling point of water. For a reference on the physical properties of nicotine, you can check the IPCS: http://www.inchem.org/documents/icsc/icsc/eics0519.htm In summary, what the above physical properties are saying is that there is no possible way in this universe, or any other, that a nicotine vapor can exist.
You can not get nicotine by burning tobacco.
The nicotine will chemically decompose before a vapor of it is formed. Furthermore, if any nicotine vapor did form by burning tobacco, it would burst into flames before any residual moisture in the tobacco leaves is boiled away. Now, I realize that the stuff I just said is going to stomp hard on the religion that you have been taught since childhood, but there is no nicotine in tobacco smoke. Never has been and never will be.
When “scientists” study tobacco smoke to measure “nicotine content”, they do not actually look for nicotine. They look for a different chemical named “cotinine”, which is nicotine oxide. Cotinine is neither harmful, nor addictive, nor psycho-active. A great deal of research has been done on cotinine because it blocks the effects of cocaine on the human nervous system and is used medically for detoxification from cocaine addiction.
“Nicotine” is a chemical component of many related compounds, such as nicotine citrate, nicotine sulfate, nicotine malate, nicotine oxide (cotinine) and nicotinic acid (vitamin B3, niacin). Pure, free base, nicotine is a deadly poison, an addictive drug and also a good explosive. The above mentioned compounds containing nicotine however, bear as much resemblance to nicotine as table salt does to metallic sodium, or as water does to hydrogen.
Now, you may ask, if nicotine is so unstable, how do scientists get it to use as a pesticide? The method used to extract freebase nicotine from dried tobacco leaves was discovered in 1828, and can best be summarized by this quote from a 1911 encyclopedia: NICOTINE, Ci0H14N2, an alkaloid, found with small quantities of nicotimine, C,9H14N2, nicoteine, Ci0Hl2N2, and nicotelline, CioH8N2, in tobacco. The name is taken from Nicotiana, the tobacco plant, so called after Jean Nicot (1530-1600), French ambassador at Lisbon, who introduced tobacco into France in 1560. These four alkaloids exist in combination in tobacco chiefly as malates and citrates. The alkaloid is obtained from an aqueous extract of tobacco by distillation with slaked lime, the distillate being acidified with oxalic acid, concentrated to a syrup and decomposed by potash. The free base is extracted by ether and fractionated in a current of hydrogen. It is a colorless oil, which boils at 247 C. (745 mm.), and when pure is almost odorless. It has a sharp burning taste, and is very poisonous. It is very hygroscopic, dissolves readily in water, and rapidly undergoes oxidation on exposure to air. The free alkaloid is strongly laevo-rotatory. F. Ratz (Mounts., 1905, 26, p. 1241) obtained the value [o]u = 169-54 at 20; its salts are dextro-rotatory. It behaves as a di-acid as well as a di-tertiary base. Here is a link to the web page of that enclopedia article:
In other words, to get nicotine from tobacco, you would have to soak your dried tobacco leaves in water to produce an “aqueous extract”. Then, mix that aqueous extract with slaked lime (calcium hydroxide). Then, mix the distillate with oxalic acid. Then concentrate it into a syrup. Then mix that syrup with some potash (potassium hydroxide). Then distill it again in an atmosphere of flowing ether and hydrogen. Do you take the time to do all this when you smoke a cigarette? Highly doubtful.
Stop to think, the next time you read some b.s. on “nicotine addiction” and realize that all this crap has been based on 75 years of pure “junk science” and propaganda. Who was it that said, “Tell a lie enough times and it becomes the truth?” I believe that the author of this strategy was a certain high ranking officer in the Nazi Party of Germany in the 1930s, which Party was also the origin of today’s anti-tobacco religion.
When you burn tobacco, you don’t get any freebase nicotine. What you get is an assortment of harmless, stable chemicals that result from the oxidation of nicotine. Visit a drug store and read the ingredients of “nicotine” gum, lozenges and patches. You will find that most of them contain no nicotine, but rather nicotine sulfate or nicotine oxide, or even good old vitamin B3 (nicotinic acid). The fallacy that makes “nicotine addiction” junk science is that: Yes, if you make freebase nicotine in a chemical laboratory and inject it intravenously, it will act as a potent, addictive drug, and do every evil thing ascribed to nicotine.
However, burning the tobacco does not produce any freebase nicotine. Many double blind studies have already shown that “nicotine” patches, gum and lozenges are no more effective than placebos at stopping a smoking habit. Strictly, scientifically speaking, there is no (freebase) nicotine in tobacco smoke; never has been and never will be. If you really want to nail the health-nazis to the wall in court, get the research scientists on the witness stand, under oath and penalty of perjury, and ask, “Did you actually measure 1.5 mg of pure, freebase, nicotine in the smoke from that cigarette, or was it actually cotinine that you measured?” The infamous FTC method devised in the 1960’s for measuring the “nicotine” content of different brands of cigarettes is a test for cotinine (nicotine oxide). At the time, the researchers said they had to do it that way because it “is not possible to measure nicotine in tobacco smoke because nicotine decomposes too rapidly.” A good library or even the web might have a paper telling exactly how the “FTC Method” is done. Do a Google search on “FTC Method” and I bet you find the word “cotinine” in the same paragraph.