• Nicotine is an alkaloid found in the tobacco leaf, a member of the Solanaceae plant family, which includes tomatoes and potatoes. Unlike its edible family members, the tobacco leaf produces one of the most toxic poisons to humans. However, the ways in which nicotine is used makes understanding its lethal dose complicated.

    Forms of Nicotine

    The most common form of nicotine is the dried tobacco leaf. It is found in cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco. Dermal patches and chewing gum, most often used to ween someone off smoking, also contain the alkaloid. However, its most potent form is as a liquid, which makes an effective insecticide.

    Liquid Nicotine

    Liquid nicotine's median lethal dose is the easiest of all the alkaloid's forms to determine. Though it often depends on the individual's body weight, a lethal adult dose of liquid nicotine is anywhere from 30 to 60 mg. For a person who is not used to nicotine, a mere 5 mg will result in serious symptoms. Because the liquid enters the blood stream so rapidly, death usually comes within an hour. Symptoms such as a burning throat and mouth, tremors, vomiting and dizziness can develop within 15 minutes. After 40 minutes, the person has difficulty breathing and death often occurs from respiratory muscle paralysis and/or central respiratory failure.

    Nicotine Inhalation

    There is no solid data on how much nicotine an adult human would need to inhale in order to die, but regular inhalation is considered chronic poisoning. Death through nicotine inhalation is dependent on an individual's resistance to the poison and long-term complications. Common complications that lead to death are cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive lung disease and suppression of the immune system. There are cases where smoking cigarettes on a regular basis brought on symptoms of nicotine poisoning, including heart palpitations, nausea and abdominal pain.

    Dermal Intake of Nicotine

    Most often dermal nicotine poisoning comes from spilling insecticide on the skin, which is similar to and just as deadly as swallowing the liquid form. You should wash it off quickly in cold water and seek immediate medical attention. As for dermal patches, there is no set median lethal dose, but you should follow your doctor's instructions to prevent complications.

    Nicotine Poisoning and Children

    Nicotine is particularly potent for children. For infants, one cigarette is considered toxic. There are also instances of children who ingested two cigarettes and developed nicotine poisoning symptoms within 30 minutes.


    IPCS Website on Nicotine

    Facts About Nicotine Toxicity


    More Information:

    U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nicotine poisoning

    Center for Disease Control Definition of Nicotine Poisoning

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