ToxicityAnti-smoking advocates highlight the
long-term health effects, like cancer and
emphysema, that result from a lifetime of smoking or
chewing tobacco -- but these maladies are the result of
chemicals in cigarettes other than nicotine.
Unfortunately, the fact that nicotine alone is an extremely
toxic poison often goes unmentioned. Not many people realize
that nicotine is also sold commercially in the form of a
pesticide! And every year, many children go to the emergency
room after eating cigarettes or cigarette butts. Sixty
milligrams of nicotine (about the amount in three or four
cigarettes if all of the nicotine were absorbed) will kill an
adult, but consuming only one cigarette's worth of nicotine is
enough to make a toddler severely ill!
What happens to people after ingesting nicotine?
Nicotine poisoning causes vomiting and nausea,
headaches, difficulty breathing, stomach pains and seizures.
Each of these symptoms can be traced back to excessive
stimulation of cholinergic neurons. People poisoned by organophosphate
insecticides experience the exact same symptoms. With
organophosphates, acetylcholine builds up at synapses and
overstimulates the neurons. Because nicotine is so similar to
acetylcholine, and binds to cholinergic receptors, nicotine in
excess produces the same overstimulation and toxicity. The
more nicotine binding to the nicotinic cholinergic receptors,
the more acetylcholine is subsequently released and free to
activate other subsets of cholinergic receptors.
The treatment for nicotine poisoning has two goals:
- Keep the victim breathing and keep the heart
pumping until nicotine is broken down by the body.
- Prevent any more nicotine from reaching the
There are several options to get rid of nicotine that has
- Syrup of Ipecac - induces vomiting
- Activated charcoal - binds nicotine in the stomach and
keeps it from being taken up into your bloodstream
For more information on nicotine and related topics, check
out the links on the next page.