Nicotine Salts 101: What’s All the Fuss About?

Nicotine Salts 101

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, it’s likely that you’ve heard of the Juul e-cigarette. The Juul was released to great fanfare and publicity in 2015, thanks to a new type of patented e-liquid containing nicotine salts. The Juul met with such success that it is now the most popular mainstream e-cigarette in the United States – and vaping companies around the world have taken notice. There are now several other pod-based e-cigarettes competing with the Juul. More importantly, you can now buy bottled e-liquids that allow you to try nicotine salts with any e-cigarette. So, what’s all the fuss about nicotine salts – and should you make the switch? In this article, we’re going to clear up the confusion.

Free Base Nicotine vs. Nicotine Salts

To understand nicotine salts, you need to understand the e-liquid that you’re currently using. Nicotine salt is the form of nicotine that’s in tobacco leaves. When companies extract liquid nicotine from tobacco leaves, they use ammonia to assist with the extraction process. In addition to improving the efficiency of the extraction, the ammonia raises the pH of the nicotine. The nicotine salt becomes free base nicotine. Compared to nicotine salt, free base nicotine is more volatile and better able to pass through the blood-brain barrier. Tobacco companies have known about the benefits of free base nicotine for years. The Marlboro brand became wildly popular in the United States during the ‘60s and ‘70s because the addition of ammonia to the cigarettes allowed the Marlboro Brand to deliver nicotine more effectively than other brands without actually containing more nicotine.

What Are Nicotine Salt E-Liquids?

All nicotine for e-liquid begins as free base nicotine. To change the nicotine to a nicotine salt, an e-liquid maker adds an acid – usually benzoic acid – to the mix. The acid lowers the pH of the nicotine and converts it to a nicotine salt.

Knowing that nicotine salt is supposed to be less bioavailable than free base nicotine, you’re probably wondering why anyone would bother converting free base nicotine back to a salt. The answer lies in the patent that Pax Labs – the maker of the Juul e-cigarette – obtained in 2015. According to the research findings detailed in the patent application, Pax Labs discovered that certain nicotine salt e-liquid formulations are more satisfying to smokers than free base nicotine e-liquids. Pax Labs also produced an image showing that its e-liquid produces blood-nicotine levels very close to what smokers achieve when they use cigarettes. There are two possible reasons for these findings:

  1. Smoking takes place at a much higher temperature than vaping. While free base nicotine is more bioavailable in smoking, it’s possible that the opposite is true in low-temperature vaping.
  2. The Juul creates a strong nicotine spike in the user’s blood because the nicotine strength of its e-liquid – 59 mg – is much higher than anything else on the market. If this is true, then it’s actually the amount of nicotine – not the fact that it’s a salt – that makes the difference.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Nicotine Salt E-Liquids?

Nicotine Salts May Be More Satisfying

The greatest potential benefit of nicotine salt e-liquids is that you may find them more satisfying than the e-liquids you’re currently using. If you still smoke occasionally and haven’t switched fully to vaping, you may find that you’re able to vape exclusively with nicotine salts. If you need to experience a nicotine rush to feel satisfied, the research suggests that you’ll get that rush with nicotine salts.

With Nicotine Salts, You’ll Use Less E-Liquid

People tend to find that the lower pH of nicotine salt e-liquids allows those e-liquids to create less throat hit than free base nicotine e-liquids with similar strengths. That’s why people can use the Juul e-cigarette without irritation even though the e-liquid contains 59 mg of nicotine per ml. If you find higher-nicotine e-liquids difficult to use because of the throat hit, you’ll find that switching to nicotine salt e-liquids allows you to use higher-nicotine e-liquids with less irritation.

Many experienced e-cigarette users get the nicotine they need by using low-nicotine e-liquids with powerful devices that create huge clouds. With powerful devices and sub-ohm tanks, the most popular nicotine strength is 3 mg. Nicotine salt e-liquids, in contrast, typically contain much more nicotine – 20 mg and higher. Using an e-liquid with a higher nicotine strength, you won’t need to blow huge clouds to feel satisfied. Sub-ohm devices are overkill with nicotine salts. Switching to nicotine salts makes it possible to “downgrade” to a lower-power device that produces smaller vapor clouds. You’ll get just as much satisfaction as you would with a sub-ohm device, but you’ll use far less e-liquid.

Nicotine Salts May Not Work for You

The only real drawback of nicotine salt e-liquids is that some individuals may not find them more effective than standard e-liquids. As mentioned above, Pax Labs conducted its research using a nicotine salt e-liquid with a very high nicotine strength. Did the e-liquid produce a high blood-nicotine level because it contained nicotine sales, or was it simply more effective because it contained more nicotine? If you switch from a standard e-liquid to a nicotine salt e-liquid without also increasing your nicotine strength, there is no guarantee that your vaping experience will improve – but it’s worth a try.

Will Nicotine Salt E-Liquids Work With My E-Cigarette?

Nicotine salt e-liquids will work in virtually any e-cigarette. Because nicotine salt e-liquids typically come in high nicotine strengths, though, you won’t want to use them in a sub-ohm device with a tank or rebuildable atomizer – you’d find the amount of nicotine too overwhelming. Nicotine salt e-liquids work best in smaller e-cigarettes such as all-in-one or pod-based devices.

Final Thoughts: Are Nicotine Salts the Next Big Trend in Vaping?

Nicotine salts have helped to change the trends among e-cigarette users. While some people prefer to blow the biggest clouds possible, others are happy to switch to smaller, more discreet devices if doing so wouldn’t mean having a less satisfying vaping experience. Some people don’t really want to use sub-ohm devices; they do so out of necessity because the big clouds allow them to get enough nicotine to feel satisfied. If that sounds like you, nicotine salts could change the way you vape. If you’d like to get more satisfaction without the huge clouds, burned cotton and battery management issues that go along with sub-ohm vaping, nicotine salts may be right for you.

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