How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your System?

Nicotine in Your Blood, Urine, Hair, & Saliva

Someone putting out a cigarette

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If you are applying for a new job or looking for life or health insurance, don't be surprised if you have to take a drug test—which may include testing for nicotine. In fact, smoke-free hiring practices have become increasingly common. Depending on where you live, you can legally be denied a job due to your nicotine habits.

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that is found in all tobacco products, including cigarettes, pipes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and snuff. E-cigarettes and vapes contain nicotine as well. While nicotine is not considered a controlled substance, it is illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18 in the United States. Some states have raised the minimum age to 21.

Your body breaks down nicotine into many chemicals, including cotinine, which can also be detected in certain tests. Cotinine is only found in your body if you have processed nicotine and, in general, it stays in the body longer than nicotine itself.

How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your System?

Urine: Up to four days

Blood: Up to four days

Saliva: Up to four days

Hair: Up to 90 days

How Long Does It Take to Feel Effects?

Nicotine acts quickly in the body. When smoked, the substance enters the bloodstream and makes it to the brain within 20 seconds. Nicotine is a stimulant, but smokers often experience paradoxical feelings of relaxation even though the substance actually increases activity in the central nervous system.

The effects of nicotine depend on how the drug is administered. Chewing or snorting nicotine-containing products can cause more of the substance to be released in the body than if it was smoked. 

After it's taken, people quickly experience a surge in adrenaline that has a stimulating effect on the body, increasing blood pressure and heart rate. It also increases the levels of a brain chemical called dopamine, which can improve mood and increase feelings of pleasure.

How Long Does Nicotine Last?

Nicotine has a half-life of about two hours. The half-life is the amount of time it takes for half of a dose to be eliminated from the body.

When nicotine is smoked as a cigarette or other tobacco product, it is mostly absorbed into the body through the lungs. Less often, nicotine is absorbed through the membranes in the mouth and throat. If you chew tobacco or use nicotine gum, lozenges, or patches, nicotine can also be absorbed in your gastrointestinal tract or skin.

Nicotine is mainly metabolized in the liver, but also in the lungs and kidneys. It is excreted mostly via urine through the kidneys, and some nicotine is excreted in feces. Nicotine can also be found in saliva and hair.

As your body metabolizes nicotine, it is broken down by liver enzymes into metabolites that include cotinine. Nicotine tests usually look for cotinine rather than for nicotine itself.

Urine

The amount of cotinine in your urine will vary depending on how frequently and how much you use nicotine. On average, nicotine can be detected in urine for about three days. Regular smokers may have detectable levels for as long as 15 to 20 days. Urine tests are done at home or in a lab, with results returned within 24 hours to five days.

Blood

Blood tests can detect nicotine as well as its metabolites, including cotinine and anabasine. Nicotine itself may be present in the blood for only 48 hours, while cotinine may be detectable for up to three weeks. After blood is drawn in a lab, results can take from two to 10 days.

Saliva

Saliva tests can also be used to detect the presence of nicotine for about 24 hours. Cotinine can be detected for up to seven days after the last use, or up to 14 days in heavy smokers. Dry mouth or excessive salivation are two issues that can sometimes pose problems with collecting a sample.

To perform this test, a technician will swab the inside of your mouth and test oral fluids for nicotine. Results can take 24 to 72 hours.

Hair

As with other substances, hair follicle testing can detect the presence of nicotine for a much longer period of time. This method tends to be less common, however, because it is usually more expensive. Done at home or in a lab, the test requires the removal of a small amount of hair to be tested for repeated nicotine use over the last 90 days. Results typically take one to five days.

False Positive Testing

A compound called thiocyanate, which is found in some medications and foods including broccoli, garlic, radishes, almonds, and cabbage, can result in a false positive blood test result. Vegetarians may have elevated levels of this substance in their blood due to increased consumption of thiocyanate-containing foods.

Exposure to second-hand smoke is usually not enough to trigger a false-positive result, but being exposed to frequent or very high levels of second-hand smoke may cause someone to test positive for nicotine use. Such results are likely very rare, however.

Factors That Affect Detection Time

How long nicotine is detectable in the body largely depends on the type of test being used. And since each person's body processes nicotine differently, it is nearly impossible to determine a timeframe of detection with 100% confidence. Factors that can affect how quickly your body deals with nicotine include:

  • Age: As you get older, it's more difficult for your body to excrete nicotine, so it stays in your system longer.
  • Body mass: Nicotine can be stored in fatty tissue, so the more body fat you have, the longer nicotine may be detectable in your body.
  • Hydration level: Drinking water can speed up the secretion of nicotine.
  • Level of physical activity: Nicotine is excreted faster in individuals who are more physically active and have higher metabolisms.
  • Type, frequency, and history of use: Nicotine accumulates in the body, so the more you use, the longer it can take to leave your body.

Smoking vs. Vaping vs. Chewing

How nicotine is administered may have an impact on how much of it is delivered. There has been little research to determine how vaping compares to smoking regular cigarettes and if it delivers the same amount of nicotine. One study that compared nicotine doses between heavy smokers and e-cigarette users found that vaping devices effectively deliver nicotine, but at slightly lower levels than regular cigarettes. 

Chew and dip tobacco products, on the other hand, contain higher levels of nicotine than regular cigarettes. The exact amount absorbed (and therefore how much needs to be eliminated) can depend on the brand of tobacco, the acidity level of the product, and the amount chewed. Blood serum levels are about the same when comparing smokeless tobacco use to that of regular cigarettes.

How to Get Nicotine Out of Your System

The first step in getting nicotine out of your system is to completely stop using all products that contain it. The longer you keep using tobacco products, the longer the substance can be detected in your body.

Once you have stopped using nicotine, there are some steps you can take that may speed up how quickly the drug is excreted from your system.

  • Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water will help remove nicotine and its metabolites from your body through urine.
  • Eat nutritious foods. Sticking to a healthful diet that includes plenty of antioxidant-containing foods may speed up how quickly nicotine is removed from your system.
  • Exercise. Regular physical activity can increase your metabolism and the rate at which the drug is processed and cleared from your body.

You may see products and herbal supplements marketed to speed up the nicotine elimination process. However, none of these have been verified or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Symptoms of Overdose

Ingesting too much nicotine can result in nicotine poisoning. Nicotine tests may also be performed in cases where nicotine poisoning is suspected. Symptoms of nicotine poisoning can include:

  • Excessive salivation
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Increase heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomachache
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Tremors
  • Confusion

Most nicotine poisoning cases used to involve young children who got their hands on nicotine gum or patches. Although most cases are still in kids, adult cases are also now being reported more often due to e-cigarette use.

A spill of electronic nicotine solution (e-juice) can cause nicotine to be absorbed into the skin, which can also lead to poisoning.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) recommends the following safety tips for users of e-cigarettes:

  • Protect your skin when handling the products.
  • Keep e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine out of the reach of children.
  • Follow the disposal instructions on the label.
  • If someone has been exposed, call 1-800-222-1222 immediately.

Getting Help

If you are worried about whether or not nicotine will show up in a drug test, it might be the perfect time to get serious about quitting. While there are no easy, pain-free ways to kick your nicotine habit, there are plenty of resources to help you develop a solid smoking cessation plan.

Because nicotine can lead to physical and psychological dependence, stopping your use of the substance can result in withdrawal. These symptoms may include:

  • Intense nicotine cravings
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Increased hunger
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Such symptoms can be intense at first but decline in severity after three to five days. There are a number of smoking cessation treatments that can help you get through the withdrawal period and improve long-term abstinence. Nicotine-replacement therapy, such as the nicotine patch, can help you slowly reduce your nicotine intake and ease withdrawal symptoms. 

Talk to your doctor for advice and assistance if you are ready to give up tobacco. You can also visit Smokefree.gov for smoking cessation programs, apps, and other resources.

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Article Sources
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