Most people, whether they smoke or not, are aware that nicotine is dangerous and that it is just one of many different hazardous chemicals inside cigarettes. But nicotine isn’t just found in cigarettes. It is also inside nicotine patches, nicotine gum, e-liquid (for electronic cigarettes) and more. Its widespread use has led to the recognition of a new condition known as nicotine overdosing.
What Is Nicotine Overdosing?
There is a level of nicotine in the body that is considered acceptable. At this point, no overdose or nicotine poisoning is taking place. But these terms are simply for a more severe form of what nicotine is already doing to the body, even in the smallest amounts.
Most people understand that nicotine has some harmful effects, chief of which is addiction, followed by the related symptoms to it that induces cravings and withdrawal. This means that even small amounts of nicotine are harmful. But there is a point where nicotine content in the body can be so high that serious negative medical conditions occur. This is when the effects of the nicotine are classified as an overdose or poisoning.
The point where nicotine reaches that immediately hazardous level is not the same for everyone. For those who smoke regularly and whose bodies are used to nicotine, this level is going to be higher than it would be for people who only smoke occasionally or who have never smoked before. In other words, a person’s chances of overdosing with a pack of cigarettes or some other form of nicotine ingestion are much higher if they have not been exposed to cigarettes as much.
The Effects of Nicotine Overdosing
When a person overdoses on any drug, the effects are usually quite severe and hard to deal with. Each drug has its own unique symptoms, and here is what happens to someone who is overdoing on nicotine.
The first symptoms are usually anxiety and confusion. This creates feelings of paranoia and can cause severe lapses in judgment. Those who are overdosing should not attempt to operate a vehicle or heavy machinery, nor should they be trusted with the care of small children.
Panic attacks then start to break out. These are caused by the previous symptoms and can be characterized by an inability to perform even the simplest of tasks. It may only take a very small occurrence to set off such attacks once the overdose is taking place.
These symptoms are accompanied by very similar problems, such as headaches, dizziness, cold sweats, tingling sensations and muscle twitches. All of this creates a series of bodily sensations that can cause insomnia, which only makes the paranoia and panic attacks worse and more likely to happen.
Many of these are caused by the effects nicotine is having on the brain and nervous system. It restricts oxygen to essential systems, which lead to deprivation and many of the symptoms listed above.
Other initial symptoms include an increased heart rate, which can cause heart palpitations. If that continues, it could lead to a cardiac infarction or heart attack. This is further exacerbated by increased blood pressure as the nicotine continues to affect the brain by depriving it of oxygen.
That increased blood pressure can create hearing and vision difficulties. The victim may not be able to see very well or may imagine they see things that are not really present. They may also lose some hearing temporarily.
The higher blood pressure and increased heart rate can cause chest pain, which may be an early indicator that a heart attack is going to occur.
Many of the above symptoms create fatigue and a loss of appetite. As the body is deprived of food, many of the symptoms will grow worse.
The body will try to get rid of the nicotine inside. That means it is going to cause vomiting, which of course leads to stomach aches and nausea. Excessive vomiting will create dehydration, a loss of electrolytes and general un-wellness.
As oxygen continues to be kept from the brain, the person may start to experience seizures. This is characterized by uncontrollable spasms, drooling and the eyes rolling into the back of the head.
All of the mentioned symptoms will only grow worse during the stages of overdosing. If nicotine continues to be pumped into the system and no treatment is made, then death will occur at some point. This is primarily due to a lack of oxygen to the brain, which is required for base nervous functions.
Not everyone will experience the same symptoms or have the same experience as someone else who is overdoing. But treatment is necessary regardless, and the sooner it is administered, the sooner their body can return to normal.
What Causes Nicotine Overdosing
The effects of nicotine poisoning have already been covered, but it is important to know what causes them. That is one of the biggest keys to preventing the overdose, after all.
This condition, nicotine overdosing, was not as much of a problem a few decades ago. Most people who smoked did so by only using cigarettes. Their nicotine ingestion typically only came from cigarettes and no other source. The nicotine levels could be more easily controlled because there was only one source of nicotine. Now, the same chemical can be found in numerous products, making it far easier to put more into one’s system than that system can handle.
This is particularly common with people who are smoking while they are using some sort of smoking cessation product. They may be using a nicotine patch, nicotine gum or some other similar product that is supposed to alleviate their cravings. But most of these products do so by pumping nicotine into the body, even it if is often in small doses.
Some people choose not to follow the instructions that come with these products and self-administer and self-treat their cravings. They may use more of the product at a time than is recommended and cause an overdose. Or they may use the product in addition to smoking, vaping or some other means of bringing nicotine into the body. This will certainly get rid of their cravings easily, but it also puts them at risk for a nicotine overdose.
It is far more likely to happen with someone who is using multiple methods of nicotine induction rather than just one. If someone just smokes or just vapes, they are getting relatively small amounts of nicotine into their body. But if they smoke and vape or they smoke while using smoking cessation products, they greatly increase their risk for overdose.
If someone starts to see the symptoms listed above occurring to them, then they need to immediately cease whatever it is they are doing that is putting nicotine in their body.
How to Prevent It
The best way to prevent nicotine overdosing and poisoning from occurring is to not smoke or vape at all. If no from of nicotine enters the body, then there is no risk of overdosing on it. This is easier said than done, of course, as smoking is very prevalent in today’s society, and it has been for decades.
While vaping is often seen a safer alternative, the presence of nicotine is still strong in most e-liquids. Many of them come with variable nicotine levels, and consumers can choose what level of nicotine they want in their product, but they will still be putting that nicotine in their body.
Anyone who wants to avoid nicotine overdosing entirely simply needs to stop smoking, chewing tobacco, vaping or whatever habit they are engaged in that is pumping nicotine into their body. That is the first and best step for prevention.
The second one is that no two sources of nicotine be combined. This has been covered above, but it bears repeating, since it is the most common way that people are overdosing. If someone is using a smoking cessation product, be it gum, patch or other, they shouldn't be smoking or vaping at the same time. If they find that they cannot give up their smoking or vaping while they are on the cessation product, then they need to stop using that cessation aid. But there is more to it than just using one or another at a time.
Everyone who uses something that contains nicotine should know that the nicotine does not leave their body right away. It can take a day or more for the levels of nicotine in the body to return to a reasonable and safe level. If someone decides they cannot endure on a nicotine patch alone, that does not give them freedom to start smoking a few hours after they stop using the patch. They need to give their body time to expel the nicotine from its systems.
That nicotine can stay with the body for a while, sometimes for as long as three months. So they aren't likely to let it all drain out before they start back smoking or whatever habit they are indulging. But they definitely do need to give themselves some time between when they stop using one product and when they take up the next. A good rule of thumb is to wait an entire 24-hour period. That Is primarily because the many nicotine products use varying levels of nicotine. It isn’t always possible for a person’s body to achieve safe levels of nicotine in just a few hours.
For those wanting to be sure they are getting dangerous levels of nicotine out of their body, there are a few ways to do so. They can start by drinking plenty of liquids, particularly water. They can follow that up with an antioxidant-rich diet. This would include foods and beverages that contain berries or concentrations of fruit. These items fight toxins in the body and remove them from various bodily systems quickly and efficiently. That person can also exercise, which improves the body’s ability to get rid of toxins.
Once someone is doing all of this and giving themselves about a day between stopping one nicotine product and starting another, they should be safe from the risk of nicotine poisoning. But once again, it is worth noting that not everyone is the same. For those who experience the symptoms of overdosing even after they have taken precautions, it is crucial that they stop putting nicotine into their body and go see a doctor immediately. Treatment that is administered right away can prevent the worst effects from taking place and can ensure that nicotine poisoning does not cause long-term effects.