What are Nicotine Salts? The Vape Town Guide

Nicotine Salts: E-liquids vs Freebase nicotine

There has been a massive rise in popularity of nicotine salt based e-liquids recently, but what are nicotine salts? We take a look at how they compare to freebase nicotines to see how to use them and what all the fuss is about.

Nicotine salts (aka nic salts) have been used in e-liquid for a few years now. However, their meteoric rise in popularity has only happened over the last 12 months.

Nicotine salt e-liquids are particularly popular in the United States where they commonly vape a massive 50mg of nicotine salt in their vapes.

The EU versions of nicotine salts are limited to the 20% nicotine level allowable by the TPD regulations.

This rise in demand has seen us massively increase our own range of nicotine salt e-liquids. We created this guide to explain how nicotine salts work and to help you make an informed decision about whether vaping nicotine salts is right for you.

What is freebase nicotine?

Firstly, let’s address the more common form of nicotine - freebase.

Cigarettes, nicotine replacement therapies (gum, patches, etc.), and regular vape juices all contain freebase nicotine.

Freebasing is achieved by converting nicotine from its natural ‘salt’ state into its base ‘pure’ form. It’s a way of increasing strength without increasing the quantity.

Protons are stripped from the nicotine salts using ammonia which increases its pH level (alkalinity) and returns it to a deprotonated ‘freebase’ state.

So, why would vapers benefit from a switch to nicotine salts if freebase nicotine is so pure? The answer lies with the main drawback of using freebase nicotine in e-liquid.

The cons to using freebase nicotine in e-liquids

The main requirement of choosing vaping to quit smoking is to make the sensation of vaping as close to that of smoking a cigarette as possible. Therefore, the nicotine delivery method has to replicate smoking.

Because freebase nicotine has a high pH value, which makes it more alkaline, it is extremely harsh in high doses. The throat hit from a high milligram dose of freebase nicotine is found to be too severe for most vapers to enjoy.

This can lead to vaping newcomers reducing the nicotine content of their e-liquid before they’ve conquered the early cravings that come with quitting smoking.

The clever folks behind nicotine salts for e-liquid wanted to find a way to deliver both an effective way of quashing cravings and a smooth vaping experience.

So, they created nicotine salts... 

But, what are nicotine salts? 

Firstly, let’s dispel a myth - nicotine salts will not make your vape juice taste salty, and will not increase your sodium intake.

In scientific chemical terminology, a salt is simply something that is made up of a chemical reaction that has a positive charge (acid) and a negative charge (base).

Tobacco leaves contain nicotine only in its salt state. It is these nicotine salts that are deprotonated to create freebase nicotine.

The chemical make-up of nicotine salt has a naturally weak base which needs to find positively charged particles (protons) to become stable (ionised). Because ions struggle to move through cell membranes, they don’t travel easily to the nicotine receptors in our body.

If pure nicotine salts were added to the Vegetable Glycerin or Propylene Glycol that e-liquids comprise of, it would need to be vaped at extremely high temperatures for the nicotine to be effective. Too high for a vape mod to reach. 

So, to rectify this, the nicotine salts require a little chemical conversion of their own.

How nicotine salts work

Rather than bore you with the precise molecular breakdown, we can sum it up in two words: pH levels.

If you increase the acidity of pure nicotine salt, you can deliver much higher doses of nicotine without the nasty throat hit.

Acids bond really well to nicotine.

There are certain acids that occur naturally in every cell of the human body that are perfect for the job of converting natural nic salts to ‘vapable’ nicotine salts.

The most commonly used acid is Benzoic acid which has three key benefits:

  1. It gives the nicotine a chemical structure which is far more rapidly absorbed by our bodies

  2. It enables the nicotine salt to vaporise at lower temperatures

  3. It lowers the pH level resulting in a much smoother throat hit

By raising the acidity of nicotine salt, it delivers a concentration of nicotine to the blood that is comparable to standard cigarettes, in roughly the same amount of time.

Nicotine salts vs. freebase nicotine

Let’s take a closer look at the key differences:

Nicotine Salt

Freebase Nicotine

 

  • Contains Benzoic or Citric acid

  • Is absorbed faster into the bloodstream

  • Is smooth at high doses

  • Does not enable large cloud production

  • Suited to mouth-to-lung vaping

  • More expensive by volume

  • Suitable for high nicotine strengths

  • Ideal for new vapers, or mixed users

  • Less liquid needed for comparable nicotine hit

  • Slow oxidation means longer shelf life

  • Well suited to pod vapes and lower power vape devices
  • Contains no additives

  • Has a slower absorption rate

  • Is harsh at high doses

  • Enables large cloud production

  • Suited to mouth-to-lung or direct-to-lung vaping

  • Less expensive by volume

  • More suited to low and medium nicotine strengths

  • Suited to vapers with lower nicotine requirements

  • More liquid needed for comparable nicotine hit

  • Faster oxidation means shorter shelf life

 

Are nicotine salts right for you?

Nicotine salt e-liquid might just be the right thing for you if you can tick yes to any of the below questions:

  • Do you want to quit smoking?

  • Have you tried vaping before without success?

  • Are you happier with a more basic vaping device?

  • Do you prefer higher nicotine levels than regular e-liquid can provide?

If you have any more questions about nicotine (or anything vape related for that matter), we’re always on hand to offer expert guidance and advice. Please feel free to get in touch.