Nicotine poisoning: symptoms and treatments

Do you know that it is possible to get nicotine poisoning? Do you have any idea how the substance works in the body? Cigarette smoking is a public health problem that begins, in general, during adolescence, before coming of age

Nicotine, for its part, is the main psychoactive ingredient in tobacco and owes its addictive properties to the increased release of dopamine in the brain's circuits. It is a natural alkaloid, derived from the tobacco leaf Nicotiana tabacum.

What is nicotine poisoning?

Nicotine intoxication may be, as is all intoxication, criminal-suicidal or accidental, as far as cause is concerned. On the other hand, if we classify it according to its time of exposure and onset of symptoms, it will be super-acute, acute or chronic.

Overdose occurs when the person uses too much of a drug and suffers a toxic reaction, causing serious harmful symptoms or death.

Nicotine poisoning tends to occur in young children who accidentally chew the nicotine gum or nicotine patches used to quit smoking by adults. There are also reported cases of ingesting the liquid from electric cigarettes.

Nicotine poisoning is very difficult to happen from cigarettes. Actually, patches and gum are the main culprits.

Read this article: How does tobacco affect the heart?

Causes of nicotine poisoning

Nicotine intoxication or poisoning occurs, as we have mentioned, by deliberate suicide attempt or by accident. The second option is more common among children, which can interpret the gum of the substance as a candy.

The study of the toxicity of tobacco is very complex, because not only are the carcinogens present in this smoke investigated, but also metabolites are formed in the body that will also exert effects. In the long term, the accumulated nicotine causes tissue hypoxia and direct tissue damage.

Toxicity can be increased by numerous factors, such as a decrease in barometric pressure, an increase in alveolar ventilation, the preexistence of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases or anemia.

What are your symptoms?

Mild nicotine intoxication is characterized by nausea, vertigo, headaches, and hypersalivation (increased salivation), eventually accompanied by trembling, vomiting and a feeling of weakness in the legs. In severe poisonings, on the other hand, shock with a weak pulse, cold sweats, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Due to the penetration of massive doses, death from respiratory and cardiac paralysis can occur.

Symptoms of acute nicotinic poisoning can persist for many hours and even days. When the alarming manifestations disappear, lack of appetite and gastrointestinal disorders can still persist.

Concomitant symptoms of chronic nicotinic poisoning, on the other hand, manifest in the circulatory organs, especially in the coronary heart vessels. This leads to angina pectoris and coronary sclerosis, that is, hardening of the walls of the arteries that supply the heart.

Discover: 5 positive changes you experience when you quit tobacco

Available treatments for nicotine poisoning

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is recommended for smokers of more than 10 cigarettes a day and who have no contraindications. When the substance is given through this replacement therapy, the person avoids another 4000 toxic substances that are inhaled from smoking tobacco.

The nicotine levels in these products are much lower than in tobacco And the way they release the substance makes them less addictive than smoking cigarettes. On the other hand, the efficacy of pharmacological treatments is measured by the abstinence rate obtained after one year from the start.

Recent studies indicate that, for now, none of the methods and therapies evaluated through experimental clinical trials develop long-term abstinence in all the people treated.

Nicotine patches only provide this compound and not the other 4000 poisons that the cigarette contains.


In addressing smoking as a public health problem, certain tax, legislative, labor and medical measures must be considered. Among the most prominent we must mention those related to information. For example, the prohibition of its advertising and the inclusion of warnings about the health risks derived from smoking.

In the specific case of nicotine intoxication, it is important that cessation treatments are prescribed by health professionals. This is to regulate the dosages and not overdo it. Having an indication of gum or patches of the substance implies that They should not be left within the reach of minors, placed in closed drawers or at high heights.

Nicotine overdose as a latent risk

While nicotine is addictive, most of the serious effects of tobacco use come from other chemicals. Smoking can lead to lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. In addition, it increases the risk of heart disease that can lead to an acute myocardial infarction.

To avoid nicotine intoxication, you have to avoid cigarettes, of course, but it is essential that products for cessation, such as gum and patches, are used according to professional prescription. There should be no self-medication at this point, as the risk of overdose is latent.