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Synthetic Nicotine vs. Regular Nicotine: What's Better?

November 18, 2021 4 min read

Synthetic Nicotine vs. Regular Nicotine: What's Better?

Nicotine is often wrongly blamed for tobacco-related diseases. But the truth is that tar is responsible for the severe health implication of tobacco intake through traditional nicotine delivery systems. Despite all the misconceptions and bad reputation, nicotine has survived and is still used by many people. 

With the expansion of the e-cigarette market, the demand for nicotine is also increasing. Nicotine is a useful ingredient in making e-juice for vaping and is now available in pharmaceutical andsynthetic nicotine products, which is quickly becoming the real game-changer.

But is synthetic nicotine indeed better than plant-based nicotine? Well, this post compares the two nicotine types side-by-side, establishing their similarities, differences, and advantages.

What is Nicotine?

Nicotine is a chiral alkaloid present in plants descending from the nightshade (Solanaceae) family.Chiral alkaloids have some effect on human metabolism. 

It is present in various plant sources, and surprisingly, they include pantry staples like potatoes, tomatoes, and chili peppers. However, these sources contain negligible amounts of the alkaloid at approximately 15nanograms/gram for each tuber or fruit. 

Compared to other nightshade plants, tobacco leaves’ nicotine is off-the-charts at 5%-8% nicotine per leaf, explaining why it is the dominant nicotine source.  

Because of nicotine's effect on metabolism as a chiral alkaloid, consumers use it recreationally for its stimulant and anxiolytic (relaxation) effect. 

Nicotine is a primary ingredient in nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). One researchstudy review shows that NRT has a 50% to 70% success rate in helping tobacco users quit harmful nicotine delivery methods and is a major driver for nicotine consumption.

Now that you know all about nicotine as a compound, thesynthetic nicotine VS natural nicotine showdown is next. So, keep reading to establish which one of the two is the real deal. 

Nicotine Production Processes for Synthetic and Regular Nicotine

Synthetic and plant-sourced nicotine share an exact chemical structure featuring ten chemical atoms, 14 hydrogen atoms, and two carbon atoms. However, nicotine manufacturers utilize two distinct methods to extract and synthesize each nicotine form, respectively.

Smoking cured tobacco leaves rolled up in paper was the traditional way of consuming nicotine, as with tobacco sticks. However, decades ofresearch into mortality rates yielded that the tar present in cured tobacco leaves releases toxic, carcinogenic compounds when combusted. The findings prompted tobacco companies to switch to nicotine production methods allowing consumers to enjoy the alkaloid without risking cancer.

Nicotine production companies first created nicotine infusions from tobacco leaves before switching to more effective nicotine extraction methods. The most popular nicotine production method is solvent extraction.

Solvent extraction utilizes organic solvents to retrieve phytochemicals like alkaloids from crushed plant matter. Once the extraction solvent dissolves the maximum amount of phytochemicals, the newly-formed solution undergoes distillation to purge the extraction solvent residue from the phytochemical distillate. 

The standard extraction solvents used in retrieving nicotine during solvent extraction include water, ethanol, and some petroleum products like kerosene. Different extraction solvents take different durations to dissolve the maximum amount of nicotine from tobacco leaves. The final nicotine distillate is pharmaceutical nicotine because it is 99.9% pure, like any pharmaceutical-grade chemical.

On the other hand, synthetic nicotine production entails manipulating chemical compounds to recreate a replica of the organic nicotine molecule. Nicotine chemical synthesis is done in certified labs, and ethanol, niacin, and sulfuric acid are among the chemicals used in the process. However, the step-by-step process remains under wraps as synthetic nicotine production is pretty new, and most producers are working on patents. The process yields 100% pure nicotine. Therefore, the main difference between natural nicotine (pharmaceutical grade) and synthetic nicotine (tobacco-free) is 1% purity. 

Synthetic nicotine being made in a lab.

Product Purity

The main selling point for companies that produce and sellsynthetic nicotine juice is pristine purity. Ideally, the difference between tobacco-extracted and tobacco-free nicotine should be 1% purity, with nothing worth tripping over.

However, with solvent extraction, the solvent may extract other organic compounds other than nicotine. Besides, some solvents used in the extraction process, like kerosene, are not food-grade and can make it to the final nicotine distillate. So that 1% purity makes a significant difference if you look at it from that point of view. 

Nicotine Effect on Consumers

Synthetic nicotine and natural nicotine share the exact molecular structure; therefore, they also have the same stimulant effect on the body. 

Nicotine typically delivers its effects by binding to nicotinic receptors in the peripheral and central nervous systems, the muscles, and the brain.  It then excites the nicotinic receptors, causing various neurotransmitters, including dopamine, known for its stimulant effect. Nicotinic receptors’ presence in the muscles may explain nicotine’s anxiolytic effect. 

Both nicotine types interact with the body and have similar concentrations. Consequently, individual effects depend on the nicotine concentration you buy and not the nicotine's organic or synthetic state.

Flavor Profile

Another selling point for synthetic nicotine is its tasteless and odorless nature, unlike natural nicotine, which has a characteristic smell. Its pristine nature makes it an impressive flavor carrier and a favorite for vape product manufacturers targeting the zoomers’ market.

Gen Z’s obsession with vaping arises from the outstanding variety of vape flavors available on the market. Synthetic nicotine vaping is the go-to chill-out plan for most Gen Zs and their regular squads. In contrast, organic nicotine does not carry flavor, and some consumers may find its distinct odor nasty.

Regulation

Organic nicotine falls under similar regulations as tobacco products, which the FDA heavily regulates. Manufacturers using natural nicotine in their products must submit a Pre-market Tobacco Product Application (PMTA) to authorities before launching a product. 

The FDA is yet to classify synthetic nicotine either under tobacco products or a drug, meaning minimal oversight. While this is good news for manufacturers, consumers and the public may have different views regarding their safety.

A bottle of synthetic nicotine being evaluated by a person wearing goggles, a hair net, a mask and gloves.

Cost 

Synthetic nicotine is more expensive to produce because theracemic nicotine mixtures used to make it are half as potent as natural nicotine. Therefore, manufacturers need to scale-up processing to achieve the desired potency, which takes money, making the product more expensive than regular nicotine.

Product Forms

The nicotine market is diversifying regarding product varieties like vapes, gums, lozenges, patches, etc. Both nicotine types are ideal for use in manufacturing such nicotine-based products. If you’d like to go nicotine-free, there’s also TFN nicotine for sale available online.

A drop of synthetic nicotine.

Conclusion

Synthetic and regular nicotine are pretty similar. However, if the nuanced differences highlighted above matter to you, synthetic nicotine may be a better option.

 

Resources:

https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/75126

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5003586/

https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/tobacco-tar

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33284031/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4370908/#:~:text=The%20Theoretical%20Domains%20Framework%20(TDF,interventions%20aimed%20at%20behavior%20change.

https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/abstract/10.1055/s-0029-1219966

 

 


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