What is Nicotine Salt? Your Comprehensive Guide

Nicotine salts, or ‘nic salts’ for short, are the naturally occurring form of nicotine deriving from the tobacco plant, in its purest liquid state. Many vapers prefer a much smoother but higher strength nic salt to get that rush previously experienced from cigarettes. Instead of freebase nicotine like in most e-liquids, nicotine salt enters the bloodstream at a faster rate for quicker absorption. We aim to debunk the myth and explain why they could work for you in an even more efficient way than traditional freebase nicotine.

What is Nicotine Salt?

The aim of the game with vaping is simple – find a better alternative to smoking so you can quit for good. While vaping has proved highly successful with millions giving up cigarettes already for e-cigarettes, the transition is difficult as smokers try to match the throat hit while equalling the amount of nicotine comparable with their smoking habits.

With nicotine in your e-liquid, you get the fix needed without any nasty chemicals in cigarettes such as tobacco, which acts as one of the key components that can seriously damage your health. However, to begin with, most pharma-grade e-liquid traditionally was freebase nicotine. That’s because ammonia – which accepts a proton from the positively charged nicotine molecule, freeing it from the salt that binds it within the tobacco leaf – is a perfect solvent for the extraction of nicotine to get the best flavour. If you like to vape fruit e-liquids, freebase is your best option. Nevertheless, it doesn’t give quite the same sensation in terms of nicotine strength as a cigarette would, which before led those finding it difficult to transition back to smoking.

Vaping freebase nicotine evaporates at a much faster rate than nicotine salt, staying in the throat or mouth for longer and not entering the bloodstream as quickly. Because freebase acts at a higher PH level, gravitating more towards alkaline, this form of nicotine becomes harsher on the throat. Some vapers like this but you will not inhale as much nicotine into your system. That’s where salt nicotine enters the equation – you can still vape higher levels of nicotine (maximum of 20mg or 2% pure nicotine) but thanks to benzoic acid, it drops the PH level to what our bodies are more used to and creates a smoother process to vape more nicotine less frequently.

How to Use Nicotine Salts

  1. Select a low powered device that’s easy to vape. Higher powered Sub-Ohm mods for instance are not suitable with a nic salt juice. This is because you want to avoid vaping too much nicotine in one go. In addition, it will mean you inhale less vapour which is kinder on your body.
  2. Choose a traditional nic salt e-liquid flavour like tobacco or menthol, to begin with, as it will feel more familiar. If you choose a fruit flavoured e-liquid, it may feel too mild.
  3. Depending on how many cigarettes you used to smoke, vape at the equivalent level of milligrams in your nic salt. Therefore, if you smoked a pack a day or more, which is considered heavy smoking, opt for an e-liquid at the highest dose of 20mg. Then you can drop accordingly when you feel comfortable.
  4. Take your time with it, ensuring you get the right nicotine hit. The idea with salt nicotine is to get the required intake with less strain, vaping less and using less e-liquid.

Nicotine Shots - What’s the Difference?

Bottles of 10ml nicotine shots on their own serve a sole purpose – to add to a 50ml shortfill bottle, honouring TPD regulations set in 2015 and enforced by 2016. These rules stated that nobody can purchase an e-liquid bottle containing nicotine at a larger capacity than 10ml. Therefore, step forward nicotine shots for shortfill e-liquids to sidestep this measure. In essence, a vaper can buy a larger bottle of nicotine-free e-liquid and then add a nicotine shot if they wish. It’s at a much weaker strength than a nic salt, so it’s perhaps more useful for someone who has already tapered down their nicotine habit. There is a gap of 10ml left in the shortfill bottle for this purpose, which you can then proceed to mix and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes. This will maximise the flavour of your e-liquid to create the best taste. Slowly we are seeing more nic salt shots entering the market which provides an even smoother vape with greater control over what you add yourself.

Is ‘Salt Nic’ Bad for You?

Creating nicotine salt e-liquid is much simpler than you might realise; all that’s necessary is to add an acid to an existing freebase nicotine solution. The most popular acid for that purpose is benzoic acid, a common food preservative. Other common acids in nicotine salt e-liquids include malic acid, salicylic acid and lactic acid.

Adding an acid to freebase nicotine triggers a chemical reaction in which the nicotine binds to the acid, creating a salt. The addition of benzoic acid as an e-liquid additive was pioneered in the United States by PAX Labs and eventually patented worldwide. Because nicotine, although an addictive substance, is harmless on its own, whether it’s freebase or nic salt makes very little difference. Providing you’re ok with the addition of benzoic acid, vaping nicotine salt should not cause any concern. The only thing to consider with salt nic is the higher content of nicotine that you could vape. If you’re not careful, it could make you feel unwell if you vape too much in a short space of time. Because of its smoothness compared to freebase nicotine, this could go unnoticed initially.

Potential Side Effects

There have been many studies that highlight the impact of inhaling nicotine on your immune system. We know after decades of research the dangers of smoking cigarettes and we are starting to slowly see more on vaping. Currently, many medical organisations recognise that vaping is a safer alternative where nicotine is the only substance also used in a cigarette. The other key ingredients in a vape liquid are propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin and sweeteners. With e-cigarettes, you can even remove nicotine if needed. Nicotine can cause side effects to your respiratory and cardiovascular system according to specific medical studies, but this also depends on the amount of nicotine you consume and the frequency you do so.

Why Choose Nicotine Salts?

  • More effective for heavy smokers who are used to more than one pack a day of cigarettes
  • Smoother on the throat than harsher freebase nicotine and less likely to cough
  • You will not need to vape as often to get a higher amount of nicotine
  • Can work out cheaper than freebase e-liquids if you vape nic salts less often
  • Geared more towards smokers and mouth to lung vaping. Previously vaping focused on Sub-Ohm large cloud vaping but nic salts are more discreet

Nicotine salt e-liquid isn’t more satisfying because it’s more natural, because it’s more like real tobacco or because it’s more readily absorbed by the body. As you’ve learned from reading this article, freebase nicotine is more bioavailable than nicotine salt, and “real” tobacco – at least as far as cigarettes are concerned – is very often freebase with ammonia, just like freebase nicotine e-liquid.

The real reason why nicotine salts are so popular is simply that nicotine salt e-liquid is easier to inhale than freebase nicotine e-liquid. Ammonia has a fairly high pH of 11.6. Liquid nicotine extracted with ammonia is, therefore, somewhat alkaline. It has a pH of about 9. Adding acid to e-liquid lowers its pH, making it more neutral and thus less irritating to the throat.

Have you ever attempted to use a high-nicotine e-liquid and found it difficult to inhale? The pH of both propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine is close to 7, which is neutral. Adding freebase nicotine to an e-liquid increases its pH – and the more nicotine an e-liquid contains, the more alkaline it becomes. At a certain point, the alkalinity of the e-liquid becomes so high that it’s no longer possible to inhale it comfortably; the throat hit becomes too overpowering.

Adding acid adjusts an e-liquid’s pH, making it more neutral and reducing its throat hit. The e-liquid can therefore contain a higher concentration of nicotine while remaining enjoyable to use. That’s why nicotine salts are more satisfying. A salt nicotine e-liquid can contain more nicotine than a freebase nicotine e-liquid – and can be inhaled more deeply – without irritating the throat.

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