Applying a little bit of common sense reveals that it is technically possible to overdose on anything. Medicines are an obvious one, people use stuff they buy in the pharmacy to top themselves after all. But even seemingly innocuous things such as chocolate and pop music can have dangerous side effects if overdosed upon. For example, the side effects of me hearing Avril Lavigne’s Hello Kitty song one more time are extremely hazardous for anyone who happens to be in my vicinity.
When it comes to nicotine though, there are still one or two prevailing misconceptions which are based on bad science. And not just bad science, but bad, old science. Luckily for us, good, modern science has got involved and has been pursuing the truth of the matter like a major record label after children’s pocket money.
What We Know About Nicotine
We know nicotine is technically a poison, hence the term nicotine poisoning, and that high doses of it is very dangerous. We also know that the amounts present in a cigarette or in a few puffs of an e-cigarette aren’t even nearly enough to stamp our tickets. But how far away exactly are we from that fatal dose? Are we batting our eyelids at death by chain vaping? Or am I merely hyping up the potential danger in order to manipulate you into reading on?
We know nicotine can kill because it has killed. However, most fatalities caused by nicotine are as a result of its use as an insecticide. It’s much less commonly used that way now, as cheaper and supposedly less harmful alternatives are available. Nicotine is even prohibited for use as a pesticide in the United States. But what about nicotine’s other common use, not only in tobacco products but in our increasingly beloved e-juices?
Nicotine in Smoking and Vaping Products
Overdosing on nicotine via cigarettes, either the tobacco or the electronic kind, has no real danger of death. Believe it or not, and you should because it’s true, this is only relatively recently acquired knowledge for the human race. For a long time it was believed that it was possible to fatally overdose on the amount of nicotine in just two to five cigarettes.
Thanks to modern scientists such as Bernd Mayer who actually bothered themselves to do some proper tests, we now know that a fatal dose of nicotine is practically impossible to achieve via the smoking of cigarettes or vaping. And by ‘practically’ I mean you just can’t do it. It’s not practical. It’s beyond the realms of possibility. Probably best not to try though, as I will soon explain the actual and practical dangers of nicotine overdosing.
Nicotine Dangers According to Science
First, have a look at some numbers. Those scientists from about 150 years ago decided that a fatal dose was between 40 and 60mg, which two cigarettes could provide if the entire amount of nicotine in them was absorbed. These 19th century researchers came to this decision by taking nicotine themselves (up to 4mg of the stuff intravenously, which is the equivalent of 40mg taken orally) and reporting how they felt. Now remember that all warnings on nicotine consumption since then have been guided by these guys writing down their feelings after consuming various and relatively low amounts of nicotine.
More modern findings – using slightly more reliable methods like actually monitoring the effects of nicotine on the body plus plenty of post-mortem examinations of people who died of nicotine poisoning – have discovered that a more realistic fatal dose to be somewhere between 500 and 1000mg, which is probably why we haven’t ever witnessed anybody dropping dead after puffing their way through a twenty deck of Bensons.
It should also be noted that the post-mortem examinations might not be entirely accurate because nicotine breaks down very fast, especially after death, thus the results from those tests might actually mean an even higher amount of nicotine is needed to be definitely fatal.
The Possibilities of Intentionally Overdosing on Nicotine
Even by chain smoking or chain vaping the strongest available cigarettes or e-liquid to the point where you have consumed over 500mg of nicotine as fast as possible, your body would still have already begun breaking it down and started decreasing the amount present in your body by the time you reached that 500mg mark (if you were even able to make it there without vomiting your breakfast all over yourself before passing out). That’s not to say you can’t technically overdose, but that the overdose won’t result in you kicking buckets any time soon.
It is possible that by purposefully smoking as much as you can as fast as you can that you might accidentally instigate respiratory failure and die that way, but that would be your own fault and not the fault of the nicotine.
Practical Dangers of Nicotine Overdoses
Overdosing on nicotine at the low levels we can practically achieve does have negative effects. Headaches, nausea and vomiting can be expected for starters, but there are plenty of other worrying symptoms such as seizures, hypertension and muscle spasms. Again though, you need to consume a hell of a lot to even approach the risks of these overdose affects. Plus people who have never smoked or vaped are much more susceptible to these issues, as those of us who smoked for years or have been vaping e-liquid instead have already built up a resistance to nicotine and thus need even more to suffer from the negative effects.
Children are at the most risk from nicotine poisoning due to their lack of exposure to it and their constitutions being considerably weaker to begin with. Thus, vapers should always keep their vaping gear out of children’s reach just to be safe (obvious, perhaps, but always worth a reminder). This includes all your e-juice bottles (don’t trust to child-safe caps, as most kids figure them out pretty quickly) and any spare or currently unused Clearomizers. It also includes the device you are currently vaping, as it is easy to leave out when popping to the loo or when distracted by a telephone call, etc.
Mind your pets as well, especially dogs as they have a tendency to investigate whether something is eatable or not by eating it. There are stories out there about unsupervised puppies coming a cropper after chewing and eating bottles of e-liquid, so keep it well away from them.
As for smokers, you should keep your cigarettes out of your own reach as well as the children’s and the dog’s, as it’s the hundreds of other chemicals and carcinogens in tobacco which is the real danger to your health.