One of the most common reasons people want to know how long nicotine remains in their system is for employment purposes. It is not uncommon for current or prospective employers to test for nicotine in your system, either as a condition of employment or as part of a health insurance assessment.
Nicotine can be detected in many parts of your body, but these tests generally concentrate on your blood, saliva, urine, hair, and nails. The most commonly used test by employers is a saliva swab, but other tests are also routinely used.
Understanding how nicotine from vaping is absorbed and processed by your body will help you better understand how long it will take to get it out of your system; or at least how long it will be before the nicotine and related compounds are no longer detectable.
What is Nicotine?
Nicotine is a naturally occurring organic compound derived from tobacco plants, which are part of the Nightshade family. It is essentially a poison, although the fatal dose for an adult could be as high as 1000mg — far more than you can ingest at one time by vaping or smoking.
It is also a mild stimulant, producing a similar effect to caffeine and giving some users a headrush or a slight “high” feeling. Vape juice or eliquid can contain anything from 0mg to as high as 50mg of nicotine per milliliter.
How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your System?
How long nicotine from vaping stays in your body, and for how long it remains easily detectable, are two very different questions.
Your body is very efficient at absorbing nicotine. Around 90% of the nicotine ingested when you vape will be absorbed into your system. After 2-3 hours, 50% of that absorbed nicotine will have been used or removed by your body’s natural processes. The remaining nicotine hangs around for much longer and could be detectable for several weeks.
Nicotine In Your Blood – Nicotine from vaping will remain in your blood at a detectable level for around three days. Although they are a very reliable method, the use of blood tests to detect nicotine is not very common due to the expense involved in hiring medically-trained testers.
Nicotine In Your Urine – The presence of nicotine from vaping can be detected in urine for slightly longer than in blood. The average time is around four days, but it depends on your fluid intake, general health, and age. The older you get, the longer it can take for your body to expel nicotine.
Nicotine In Your Saliva – Saliva tests are less capable of detecting nicotine than blood or urine tests but are more commonly used by employers due to their cost and availability. A saliva test may show a positive result for up to three days.
Nicotine In Your Hair and Nails – The testing of hair and nails is rarely used for employment purposes due to the difficulty, cost, and time it can take. This type of testing is more commonly reserved for scientific research. Nicotine can remain detectable in hair and nails for anything between a few weeks and a couple of months.
Many variables can affect these approximate timings. As mentioned above, age can be a factor in how quickly nicotine and cotinine (formed after nicotine enters the body) are expelled from the body. Studies have also shown that women generally process nicotine faster than men.
And as you would expect, it can take longer for nicotine to leave the system of someone who has smoked or vaped heavily and consistently for a long time.
What is Cotinine?
You may have never heard of Cotinine, but it is an integral part of how our bodies deal with nicotine. The name is an anagram of nicotine, which is a clue to how closely associated the two substances are.
Cotinine is the primary metabolite of nicotine. It is what nicotine is primarily converted into once it is absorbed by your liver and is commonly used as a biomarker for tobacco and nicotine use. These days, many of the tests are calibrated to find cotinine rather than nicotine in your system.
Cotinine is easier to detect and remains in the body longer than nicotine itself. It has a half-life, the amount of time it takes for 50% of the substance to be removed, of around 14 hours. That’s approximately 6 times longer than the half-life of nicotine alone.
Can You Remove Nicotine From Your Body Faster?
There is no reliable way to flush nicotine from your system more quickly than it happens naturally. Drinking more water, exercising, and eating food rich in antioxidants may help, but the results will vary for each person.
There are numerous nicotine cleansing kits available that promise to remove all traces of the substance from your system in a few days. Most of these involve speeding up your metabolism in some way, in the hope that the nicotine and cotinine will be metabolized and expelled more quickly. There is little evidence that these often expensive treatments are effective.
To be sure that nicotine and cotinine are undetectable with any of the most commonly used tests, the safest thing to do is to stop vaping or switch to a nicotine-free vape liquid at least 10 days before the test.
Nicotine From Vaping Vs. Smoking
The question of whether vaping or smoking delivers more nicotine into your system has not yet been answered definitively. Vaping is a relatively new process and hasn’t been researched to the same degree as smoking.
Some research suggests that vaping delivers more nicotine, while other research points towards smoking as being the more efficient delivery method. Finding an answer to this question is made even harder by the variability of vape devices, power levels, vape juice strengths, and vaping methods.
Until there is more clarification, it is probably best to assume that vaping and smoking result in the same amount of nicotine being introduced into the body, and that the length of time nicotine stays in your system is similar for both.
Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms
The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal can vary greatly, but commonly include irritability, anxiety, increased appetite, trouble sleeping, and loss of focus.
How mild or acute these symptoms are depends on how much and for how long you have vaped, how strong your vape juice is, your age, and even your gender. The first few days will be the worst, but you could feel the effects for a couple of weeks after you stop vaping.
The Bottom Line
Your body is generally pretty good at processing and removing nicotine from your system. As much as 50% will be absorbed and removed from your system within a couple of hours. The remaining nicotine will be almost undetectable in 3-4 days and completely gone in 2-3 weeks.
There’s no reliable way to flush nicotine from your system any faster than it occurs naturally, so if you’re going to be subject to testing, the best bet is to stop vaping or smoking for at least 10 days before you are tested.
If you absolutely can’t stand the thought of being without a vape for that long, there’s good news! You can still vape nicotine-free, which may be more helpful than quitting cold-turkey.