Nicotine stays in the system for approximately 72 hours, though you can test positive for nicotine and its by-products months later.
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Most people are aware that nicotine is present in cigarettes, tobacco, and vapes.
But they’re less familiar with what it actually is and how it affects your body long-term.
If you’re facing a blood or urine test, read on to see how your prior tobacco use can influence the results and learn how to clear nicotine from your system.
What Is Nicotine?
Found in tobacco and other plants, nicotine is an addictive liquid alkaloid that acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system (CNS).
An alkaloid is a subcategory of nitrogenous organic compounds known to have a distinct effect on humans.
When pure, it is colorless, odorless and oily. The air causes the substance to turn brown and give off a specific smell.
The United States is the world’s largest producer of tobacco leaves.
How Does Nicotine Affect Your Body?
Medical experts will tell you that nicotine is just as addictive as heroin or cocaine.
It has several profound effects:
- Nicotine floods your CNS within seconds
- Dopamine is released, giving the sensation of relaxation and happiness
- There is an increase in your heart rate and blood pressure
- Your alertness is heightened
How Long Can Nicotine Stay In Your System?
The length of time nicotine stays in your system depends on a few factors.
The amount of nicotine in the tobacco product, and the amount that you inhale play a role.
It typically takes between 1 and 3 days for nicotine to leave your system and around the same amount of time for it to leave your saliva.
However, in some cases, you can still test positive for nicotine (or its by-products) months after smoking.
It can even stay in your hair follicles for up to a year in some instances.
Second-hand smoke exposure may result in a positive test result, meaning you can test positive even if you don’t use tobacco.
With so many factors at play, just how long nicotine stays in your system is an imperfect science.
Nicotine vs. Cotinine
While nicotine is processed fairly quickly in the body, its metabolite – cotinine – lingers.
Cotinine is a product formed after the chemical nicotine enters the body.– Centers For Disease Control and Prevention
The half-life of nicotine and cotinine are very different. In fact, cotinine’s half-life can be up to about 10 times as long as nicotine’s.
Cotinine levels are considered the most reliable indicator of a person’s exposure to tobacco products.
Just because you haven’t used nicotine within the last few days doesn’t mean you won’t test positive for cotinine.
How Do Nicotine Tests Work?
Nicotine and its metabolites are routinely tested for when you:
- Apply for health/ life insurance
- Get a new job
- Participate in a smoking cessation program
- Undergo some surgeries
Here’s a quick look at the four primary methods of nicotine testing.
|Detectability||Up to 3 weeks||Up to 10 days||Up to 5 days||Up to one year|
Can You Test for Nicotine at Home?
At-home nicotine test kits are readily available. A quick search online will provide you with a number of purchasing options.
Most at-home kits test urine, but you can also find kits that test blood, saliva, and hair.
While not necessarily as accurate as a test via a medical professional, at-home kits can give you an overall picture of whether or not nicotine is in your system.
How Can You Clear Nicotine from Your System?
If you’re looking to clear nicotine from your system ASAP, the strategies below can help.
Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, is a water-soluble vitamin with antioxidant properties.
Vitamin C aids in the metabolization of nicotine and can be found in a variety of healthy foods, such as:
- red peppers
From mental clarity to cardiovascular health, exercising is just plain good for you.
Exercise has innumerable health benefits, including aiding in the flushing of nicotine from your system.
Here’s how it works:
Your metabolism rises when you exercise. Consequently, nicotine leaves your body faster.
Water is another natural solution with a myriad of health benefits.
Not only does it improve your body’s functions, clear your skin and boost energy levels, but it can also help with nicotine removal.
When you drink H2O, it flushes nicotine and other toxins from the body.
What Products Contain Nicotine?
If you’re wondering whether or not one of your products could lead to a positive test result, take a look at the list below.
The number of products has increased over the years. It is common to test positive for nicotine if you use any of the following:
- Electronic cigarettes
- Electronic delivery systems (ENDS)
- Roll-your-own tobacco
- Pipe tobacco
- Smokeless tobacco
- Nicotine gels, gum, patches
Interestingly, in 2018, the Food and Drug Administration announced their desire to sharply decrease the amount of nicotine found in cigarettes.
Conventional domestic cigarettes contain somewhere between 1.1 to 1.7 milligrams. The FDA hopes to drastically cut the amount to 0.4 milligrams in hopes to decrease addiction rates.
What Are Some Risks Associated with Nicotine?
The greatest disease-producing product known to man is tobacco.– U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health
Most products that contain nicotine are associated with negative health consequences, particularly:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Heart attack
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
Interestingly, many of the negative health effects come from other chemicals found in the products, not specifically nicotine.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can help you quit smoking, but unfortunately, in a study published by the Harvard Public School of Health, NRT was shown to be ineffective long term.
The recidivism rates for tobacco-use are highest during the first year after quitting.
If you can make it one year without using, your odds of long-term success jump.
Because it is an imperfect science, a lot of ambiguity surrounds just how long nicotine will remain in your system.
Factors that affect the length of time include:
- Type of product
- Frequency of use
- Age and overall health
- Diet and exercise
While it leaves your blood, saliva, and urine quickly, nicotine could stay in your hair for up to a year.
The tips above can help you to flush nicotine out of your system more quickly, but the best long-term solution is to stop using tobacco.