Testing for Nicotine in Your System

Nicotine can be found in your blood, urine, saliva, and hair

Man Using E-Cigarette
Liquid Nicotine Can Be Dangerous. © Getty Images

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

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.

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that's, of course, found in all tobacco products, including cigarettes, pipes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and snuff, but many people don't realize that e-cigarettes and vapes fall into this bucket as well.

How Your Body Handles Nicotine

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 the hair.

Given this, there are several testing options for the detection of nicotine:

  • Urine test: Done at home or in a lab, results are back within 24 hours to five days.
  • Blood test: After blood is drawn in a lab, results can take from two to 10 days.
  • Saliva test: A technician will swab the inside of your mouth and test oral fluids for nicotine. Results can take 24 to 72 hours.
  • Hair follicle test: 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.

Nicotine Detection Times

How long nicotine is detectable in the body largely depends on the type of test being used.

Test Type Timeframe for Nicotine Detection (Estimated, Post-Use)
Urine test Two to four days
Blood test Two to four days
Saliva test One to four days
Hair follicle test Up to 90 days

"Estimated" is the key word here. Since each person's body processes nicotine differently, it is nearly impossible to determine a timeframe of detection with 100 percent confidence.

Certain 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.
  • Body mass: Nicotine can be stored in fatty tissue.
  • 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 takes to leave your body.

Nicotine Poisoning Warning

Nicotine tests are also performed to detect nicotine poisoning, which has been on the rise with the growing use of e-cigarettes.

In 2011, there were only 271 nicotine poisoning cases reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), but by 2014 there were 3,783 cases. 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-cigarettes.

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

Consequently, the 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.

A Word From Verywell

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. Plus, building a nicotine-free life might just make you a more productive employee.

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