When tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars or chewing tobacco are consumed, the active ingredient that gives the consumers most of the pleasure they derive from it is nicotine. Depending upon the medium, varying levels of nicotine are absorbed into the body. There are also other ways in which nicotine is consumed like in the form of nicotine gums, nicotine patches and even from second-hand smoke i.e. inhaling smoke without actually smoking yourself. Regardless of the method of ingestion, the body processes nicotine in pretty much the same manner. What varies is how quickly it is processed and metabolized and how long it remains in the system. This variation is due to a number of different factors.
Nicotine absorption into the bloodstream is very rapid and it can get to the brain in a matter of seconds. Upon reaching the brain, neurotransmitters such as dopamine are immediately released and the user gets that characteristic ‘high’. This feeling is very short term and thus the user continues to ingest more and more nicotine into the system in order to sustain the high. The high eventually fades away and it does so much faster than the actual nicotine in the system. This means, when the high caused by nicotine has abated, the nicotine itself may not necessarily have left the body yet.
Duration of Nicotine Presence In the Body
To fully understand how long nicotine stays in the system, it is important to know how nicotine is metabolized in the body and the pathways it follows. There is no general rule of thumb as to how long nicotine should remain in the system as there are various factors at play which vary from the physiology of the user to the frequency and dosage of nicotine intake.
Nicotine has a half-life of 2 hours so it can be theoretically expected that it clears from the system in an average of 12 hours. Nicotine being a toxic substance to the body is processed in the liver and out through the kidneys. The liver processes nicotine with a chemical called cytochrome P450 as the body does everything it can to clear all traces of nicotine from the system. The speed with which this happens depends primarily on two major factors; the level of nicotine intake and how long the body has been exposed to nicotine. Most people can expect to be rid of nicotine from their system between 24 to 48 hours. It is also important to note that the enzymes in the liver processes nicotine and the nicotine metabolite known as cotinine will remain in your system for a fairly longer duration as it has an extended half-life of 10 to 27 hours.
Factors That Affect How Long Nicotine Stays In the System
There are so many factors that will determine how long nicotine is present in the body but they will mostly fall under the following
- Individual physiological factors such as age, hormone levels.
- The method of ingestion.
- The frequency of use.
Every human body is unique in its own way and there are other factors that make it even more so such as age, sex etc. so it is important to note that all of these individual factors play a role in how fast or how well nicotine is metabolized in the body and finally gotten rid of. Naturally, the process is slower among older people usually above the age of 65. It is estimated that older people at this age or above process nicotine 23 percent less efficiently than younger people. In the same light, very young children, especially newborn babies, might not be able to process nicotine as efficiently as more mature people because their liver processes might not have advanced enough. Hormones too play a major role; it has been found that estrogen found in women helps them process nicotine a lot faster.
The method of ingestion also greatly affects the metabolism of nicotine. This has to do with the levels of nicotine consumed and how much more difficult it becomes for the body to metabolize increasing levels. From studies, nicotine ingested from smoking clears slower than that ingested through non-smoking methods. Metabolism of nicotine is more efficient if it is consumed without all the added chemicals in cigarettes and cigars.
How Long Does it Stay in Your Urine and Blood
The presence of nicotine in the system can be tested in a number of ways. It can be tested from the blood samples, urine samples, hair samples and saliva samples. Some tests check for the presence of nicotine outright while others check for its metabolite cotinine. Whether or not these tests show up positive for nicotine or cotinine depends on how long after your last nicotine intake the test is carried out. Typically, if you consume nicotine through tobacco by smoking a cigarette, the nicotine is absorbed into your bloodstream and should be gone within 1 to 3 days after your last use. It remains in your urine between 3 to 4 days.
The blood test for nicotine can be qualitative or quantitative. The qualitative blood test is carried out to check if a patient has recently ingested nicotine and they are very accurate. It has only two outcomes, positive or negative. The quantitative tests, however, can determine the levels of nicotine in the body or how much above a certain threshold. This test seeks to determine how much nicotine a person has been consuming.
Urine tests are easier to administer as they are less invasive. The nicotine metabolite, cotinine, is screened for in fresh samples of urine. There is a certain threshold set for a positive test which is at 200ng/ml. Anybody who tests over this amount is believed to have recently taken in nicotine.