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Nicotine (S)-3-(1-Methyl-2-pyrrolidine)pyridine C10H14N2, M 162,23 g/mol

Nicotine is the active substance of the tobacco, a nightshade plant of the kind Nicotiana. It grows particularly in West America or in the subtropical Eastern Asia. The alkaloid nicotine is contained in the sheets, which are dried and fermented after the harvest. Tobacco is smoked in whistles, as cigars or cigarettes but is also chewed or sniefed. It represents a common legal luxury drug. Nicotine itself is a strong poison, which works deadly orally taken up in a dosage of 50-100 mg.

Physiological effect

Physiologically nicotine contained in tobacco arrives in approximatly seven seconds over the lung into the brain, there docking on the "nicotinic acetylcholine receptors". The fallout of Dopamine, Serotonin and Noradrenalin, resulting from it, leaves traces in the "reward system" and leads very fast to physical and psychological nicotine dependence. Because of its rapid metabolism, brain levels of nicotine fall rapidly and the smoker experiences craving for a further cigarette 30-40 minutes after finishing the last one.

Psychological effect

The psychological effect exists in a larger awareness and higher concentration ability and in simultaneous suggestion and calming, e.g. on the one hand the subjectively feeling of an energizing effect; on the other hand in stress absorbtion. The danger of psychological dependence is thereby very high, with for instance a third of dependent smokers compared with alcohol, of which about eight per cent of the alcohol consumers become dependent.

Physical damage

Physical damage is caused both by nicotine, and by the tar set free when smoking. Thus it comes by high CO concentration in the blood (bound as CO-Hb), therfore to oxygen deficiency for the heart and brain, to heart cycle weakness, blood vessels narrowing in the heart, that can require bypass operations, as well as in the long run to the cardiac infarct. Vessel narrowing in the extremities can lead to the so-called "smoker leg" up to the necessity for an amputation. In addition in the last years connections between regular nicotine consumption and cancer of the lungs were determined. Controversy discussions still exist over the danger of the "passive smoking".

The WHO lexicon on drugs and alcohol defines "passive smoking" as the "involuntary inhalation of smoke, usually tobacco smoke, from another person's smoking. Coined in the 1970s in connection with studies of the effects of such inhalation, the term helped to draw attention to the detrimental effects of smoking on people in the smoker's environment."

Dependence and Curing

Nicotine dependence (F17.2) is classed as a tobacco use disorder under the psychoactive substance use disorders in ICD-10.

The nicotine user who has become physically dependent develops a withdrawal syndrome within a few hours of the last dose: craving for a smoke, irritability, anxiety, anger, impaired concentration, increased appetite, decreased heart rate, and sometimes headaches and sleep disturbances. Sustained use of tobacco products may result in lung, head or neck cancers, heart disease, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and other physical disorders.

Only about 5 % the smoker creates it from own drive to remain longer than 1 year nicotine-free. For the easement of curing nicotine containing preparations can be used such as Nicorette, Nicotinell or Nikofrenon, which reduce withdrawal symptoms slowly. As a medicine against the withdrawal symptoms Bupropion (also called Amfebutamon) is used (Trade Mark: Zyban) in form of a retard medicine, which shows however adverse effects, in particular convulsions.


Nicotine and its main metabolite cotinine (1-Methyl-5-(3-pyridinyl)-2-pyrrolidinone) could be determined by GC or GC/MS. Cotinine determination is also possible via ELISA tests. While the cotinine blood level of smokers is above 1000 ng/ml, the results of passive smokers are only 2 to 50 ng/ml, depending on the exposure.

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Last modification (M-D-Y): 02/08/2019 - IMPRINT - FAQ