Drugs Q & A

How Long Does Nicotine Stay In Your System?

What is nicotine?

Nicotine is a stimulant drug that speeds up the messages traveling between the brain and body. It is the main psychoactive ingredient in tobacco products and so this Drug Facts page will focus on the effects of nicotine when consumed by using tobacco.

Tar and carbon monoxide (a toxic gas) are also released when tobacco is burned, such as when it’s smoked. Products such as cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, wet and dry snuff, and dried leaves from the tobacco plant all contain nicotine. Electronic cigarettes (also known as E-cigarettes) do not contain dried tobacco leaves, but they may still contain nicotine.

In 1828, Wilhelm Heinrich Posselt, a doctor, and Karl Ludwig Reinmann, a chemist, both from Germany, first isolated nicotine from the tobacco plant and identified it as a poison.

By the end of the 19th century, lawmakers had begun to realize the harmful effects of nicotine. Laws were passed banning stores from selling nicotine to minors in 26 states by the year 1890.

It was not until 1964 that the Surgeon General of the U.S. published a study linking smoking with heart disease and lung cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took until 1994 to officially recognize nicotine as a drug that produced dependency.

Even after this landmark recognition, the FDA was not granted control over nicotine regulations by the Supreme Court until June 22nd, 2009. On this day, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gave the FDA the power to regulate the production and advertisement of tobacco products.

How long does nicotine stay in your system?

Cotinine is a chemical your body makes after you are exposed to nicotine. Measuring cotinine is better than measuring nicotine because nicotine disappears from your system within a few hours, but cotinine remains for a day or more.

There are several factors that come into play when estimating how long nicotine will stay in your system because every patient has physiology unique to them. Here are some major factors you should consider when trying to understand how long nicotine will stay in your body:

•        Age: Typically, the younger you are, the more efficient your body functions are. The more efficient your body functions, the faster nicotine will be removed from your system.

•        Genetics: Genes predispose people to different metabolic functions, which is a key factor in how your body processes drugs like nicotine. For this reason, your genetic makeup comes into play when estimating how long nicotine will remain in your system.

•        Kidney and liver functions: The liver and kidneys eliminate everything you ingest, and nicotine is no exception. If your liver or kidneys are damaged, it will most likely take longer for your body to remove the nicotine from your system.

•        Metabolism: Your metabolism determines how quickly you process foods, liquids, and drugs such as nicotine. If your metabolism is slow, it will take longer for your body to process and eliminate nicotine from its system than for someone with a fast metabolism.

•        Usage frequency: The longer you have been taking nicotine and nicotine products, the longer they will remain in your system. For example, it will take longer for someone who has taken nicotine for several years to remove nicotine from the body than someone who has only been taking nicotine for a few months.

The half-life of nicotine is 2 hours, while the half-life of cotinine is approximately 16 hours. Almost 90% of nicotine absorbed by the body is metabolized in the liver. The major site of elimination for nicotine and its metabolites is in the urine, through the kidneys. Approximately 10% of nicotine and 10% of cotinine are excreted unmetabolized in the urine, although the process is pH-dependent.

How Long Does Nicotine Stay In Your Urine?

Nicotine and cotinine can be detected in your urine for up to 4 days. However, this will depend on how regularly you smoke and how much. If you are a frequent smoker, cotinine may be detectable in urine for up to three weeks after your last exposure.

It also may take longer for cotinine to leave your urine if you’re a nonsmoker who has been exposed to a high concentration of secondhand smoke: Studies have found that smokers more efficiently clear this chemical from their symptoms. It is important to note that cotinine concentrations are 4-6 times higher in urine than in blood or saliva. Neither nicotine nor cotinine will be detectable in your urine after 3 to 4 days of stopping tobacco products

How Long Does Nicotine Stay In Your Saliva and Hair Follicles?

Studies have shown that nicotine and cotinine remain detectable in your saliva for about as long as it does in your blood—up to 4 days. But it can be detected in your hair follicles for much longer. It can take up to three months, and in some cases, even a year, for all traces of nicotine to be eliminated from your hair follicles.

While hair testing is possible, it is not as commonly used because it costs more than urine, saliva, and blood testing.

How to flush nicotine out fast

You can speed up how fast nicotine is flushed from your body, one tip that may help your body remove nicotine more rapidly is to drink more water. Nicotine is broken down in the body in the liver, and it’s then flushed out in the urine along with other chemicals and toxins. However, urine production and proper liver function are dependent on maintaining the right level of hydration in your body, and maintaining proper hydration means you may need to drink about 64 ounces of water every day.

Increasing how much you exercise is a second tip that may help your body remove nicotine. For one thing, nicotine can also be removed from the body through your sweat, and exercising increases sweat production. Also, exercise boosts your metabolism, which may speed up the breakdown of nicotine in the liver.

In spite of how helpful exercise may be, you may also want to take it easy at first if you were a heavy smoker or if you don’t have a high level of physical activity. For instance, you may want to start with a short period of walking and build up from there.

A third tip that may help your body flush nicotine faster is increasing your levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that help the body remove harmful chemicals, free radicals, and toxins, and this means they may be helpful to your body’s ability to remove nicotine quickly. A few common antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, and beta-carotene. These and other antioxidants can be obtained naturally by eating foods like:

  • Blueberries
  • Carrots
  • Dark chocolate (85%or higher)
  • Artichokes
  • Kale
  • Spinach.
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