How Long Dose Nicotine Stay In Your System

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How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your System?

Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.

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Armeen Poor, MD, is a board-certified pulmonologist and intensivist. He specializes in pulmonary health, critical care, and sleep medicine.

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If you are applying for a new job or looking for life or health insurance, don’t be surprised if you have to take a drug test, which may include testing for nicotine. This makes it important to know how long nicotine stays in your system, which can vary from 24 hours to 90 days based on several factors (which we will discuss) and the type of test used.

In fact, smoke-free hiring practices have become increasingly common in the workplace. Depending on where you live, you may even legally be denied a job due to your nicotine habits.

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance found in all tobacco products, including cigarettes, pipes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and snuff. E-cigarettes and vapes contain nicotine as well. While nicotine is not considered a controlled substance, it is illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18 in the United States, with some states raising the minimum age to 21.

Your body breaks nicotine down into many chemicals, including cotinine , which can be detected in certain drug tests. Cotinine is only found in your body if you have processed nicotine and, in general, stays in the body longer than nicotine itself.

How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your System?

  • Urine: Three to 20 days
  • Blood: 48 hours to 21 days
  • Saliva: 24 hours to 14 days
  • Hair: Up to 90 days

How Long Does It Take to Feel Effects?

Nicotine acts quickly in the body. After taking a puff from your cigarette, the substance enters the bloodstream and makes it to the brain within 20 seconds.

The amount of nicotine that enters the body varies based on how the drug is administered. For instance, chewing or snorting nicotine-containing products can cause more of the substance to be released than if it is smoked.

Nicotine is a stimulant. After it’s taken, people quickly experience a surge in adrenaline that causes blood pressure and heart rate to go up. Even though the substance actually increases central nervous system activity, smokers often experience paradoxical feelings of relaxation.

Nicotine also increases the levels of a brain chemical called dopamine. This can improve mood and increase feelings of pleasure.

How Long Does Nicotine Last?

Nicotine has a half-life of about two hours. A drug’s half-life is the amount of time it takes for half of the dosage administered to be eliminated from the body.

When nicotine is smoked as a cigarette or inhaled from another tobacco product, it is mostly absorbed through the lungs. Less often, nicotine is absorbed through mouth and throat membranes. If you chew tobacco or use nicotine gum, lozenges, or patches, nicotine can also be absorbed in your gastrointestinal tract or skin.

Nicotine is mainly metabolized in the liver, but also in the lungs and kidneys. It is primarily excreted by the kidneys via urine, with some nicotine being excreted in the feces. Nicotine can also be found in saliva and hair.

As your body metabolizes nicotine, liver enzymes break this drug down into metabolites that include cotinine. Nicotine tests usually look for cotinine rather than nicotine itself.

Urine

The amount of cotinine in your urine will vary depending on the amount and frequency of nicotine use. On average, nicotine shows in the urine for about three days. Although, regular smokers may have detectable levels for as long as 20 days. Urine tests can be done at home or in a lab, with results returned within 24 hours to five days.

Blood

Nicotine shows up in blood tests, as do its metabolites, including cotinine and anabasine . Nicotine itself may be present in the blood for only 48 hours, while cotinine may be detectable for up to three weeks. After blood is drawn in a lab, results can take from two to 10 days.

Saliva

Nicotine stays in your saliva for about 24 hours, making it detectable with saliva tests taken during this time. Cotinine can be detected for up to seven days after it was last used or up to 14 days in heavy smokers. To perform this test, a technician swabs the inside of your mouth and tests oral fluids for nicotine. Results can take 24 to 72 hours.

Dry mouth or excessive salivation are two issues that can sometimes pose problems with collecting a saliva sample.

Hair

As with other substances, hair follicle testing can detect nicotine for much longer periods of time. This method tends to be less common, however, because it is usually more expensive. The test requires the removal of a small amount of hair that is tested for repeated nicotine use over the last 90 days. Results typically take one to five days.

False Positive Testing

A compound called thiocyanate —which is found in some medications and foods such as broccoli, garlic, radishes, almonds, and cabbage—can result in a false positive blood test result. Vegetarians may have elevated levels of this substance in their blood due to increased consumption of thiocyanate-containing foods.

Exposure to secondhand smoke is usually not enough to trigger a false positive result. Although, being exposed to frequent or very high levels of secondhand smoke may cause someone to test positive for nicotine use.

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One study involving 25 children who were living with a person who smokes found that all but one of the kids had a detectable cotinine level, with all of the children having a detectable level of nicotine on their hands.

Factors That Affect Detection Time

How long nicotine appears in your system at a detectable level depends largely on the type of test being used. And since each person’s body processes nicotine differently, it is nearly impossible to determine a timeframe of detection with 100% confidence.

Factors that can affect how quickly your body gets nicotine out of your system include:

  • Age: As you get older, it becomes more difficult for your body to excrete nicotine. This enables it to stay in your system longer.
  • Body mass: Nicotine can be stored in fatty tissue. So, the more body fat you have, the longer nicotine may be detectable in your body.
  • Genetics: Research has found that a person’s genetic makeup can impact their nicotine metabolism rate.
  • Hydration level: Drinking water can help speed up the secretion of nicotine.
  • Level of physical activity: The skin helps regulate the excretion of metabolic waste products. So, with increased sweating during physical activity comes increased excretion rates.
  • Type, frequency, and history of use: Nicotine accumulates in the body. The more you use, the longer it can take to leave.

Smoking vs. Vaping vs. Chewing

How nicotine is administered may have an impact on how much of it is delivered. One study that compared nicotine doses between heavy smokers and e-cigarette users found that vaping devices deliver nicotine at slightly lower levels than cigarettes.

Chew and dip tobacco, on the other hand, contains higher levels of nicotine than cigarettes. The exact amount absorbed (and therefore needs to be eliminated) can depend on the brand of tobacco, the acidity level of the product, and the amount chewed. Blood serum levels are about the same when comparing smokeless tobacco use to that of cigarettes.

How to Get Nicotine Out of Your System

The first step in getting nicotine out of your system and starting to detox from this substance is to completely stop using all products that contain it. The longer you keep using tobacco products, the longer the substance can be detected in your body.

Once you stop using nicotine, there are some steps you can take that may speed up how quickly the drug is excreted from your system.

  • Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water can help remove nicotine and its metabolites from your body through urine.
  • Eat nutritious foods. Sticking to a healthful diet that includes plenty of antioxidant-containing foods may speed up how quickly nicotine is removed from your system. Foods high in antioxidants include several fruits and vegetables, almonds, sunflower seeds, salmon, and eggs.
  • Exercise. Regular physical activity can increase your metabolism and the rate at which the drug is processed and cleared from your body.

You may see products and herbal supplements marketed to speed up the nicotine elimination process. However, none of these have been verified or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Symptoms of Overdose

Ingesting too much nicotine can result in nicotine poisoning. Nicotine tests may be performed if nicotine poisoning is suspected. Symptoms of nicotine poisoning can include:

  • Excessive salivation
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Increase heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomachache
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Tremors
  • Confusion

Most nicotine poisoning cases have traditionally involved young children who got their hands on nicotine gum or patches. Although most cases are still in kids, adult cases are also now being reported more often due to e-cigarette use.

A spill of electronic nicotine solution (e-juice) can cause nicotine to be absorbed into the skin, which can also lead to poisoning.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) recommends the following safety tips for users of e-cigarettes:

  • Protect your skin when handling the products.
  • Keep e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine out of the reach of children.
  • Follow the disposal instructions on the label.
  • If someone has been exposed, call 1-800-222-1222 immediately.

Getting Help

If you are worried about whether nicotine will show up in a drug test, it might be the perfect time to get serious about quitting. While there are no easy, pain-free ways to kick your nicotine habit, there are plenty of resources to help you develop a solid smoking cessation plan.

Because nicotine can lead to physical and psychological dependence, stopping your use of the substance can result in withdrawal. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Intense nicotine cravings
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Increased hunger
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

These symptoms can be intense at first but decline in severity after three to five days. There are a number of smoking cessation treatments that can help you get through the withdrawal period and improve long-term abstinence. Nicotine-replacement therapy, such as the nicotine patch, can help you slowly reduce your nicotine intake and ease withdrawal symptoms.

Talk to your doctor for advice and assistance if you are ready to give up tobacco. You can also visit Smokefree.gov for smoking cessation programs, apps, and other resources.

13 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. American Lung Association. State legislated actions on tobacco issues (SLATI).
  2. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Selling tobacco products in retail stores.
  3. Valentine G, Sofuoglu M. Cognitive effects of nicotine: Recent progress. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2018;16(4):403-414. doi:10.2174/1570159X15666171103152136
  4. Kim S. Overview of cotinine cutoff values for smoking status classification. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016;13(12):1236. doi:10.3390/ijerph13121236
  5. Dhavan P, Bassi S, Stigler MH, et al. Using salivary cotinine to validate self-reports of tobacco use by Indian youth living in low-income neighborhoods. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2011;12(10):2551-4.
  6. Mahabee-Gittens EM, Merianos AL, Matt GE. Preliminary evidence that high levels of nicotine on children’s hands may contribute to overall tobacco smoke exposure. Tobacco Control. 2018;27:217-219. doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2016-053602
  7. Loukola A, Buchwald J, Gupta R, et al. A genome-wide association study of a biomarker of nicotine metabolism. PLoS Genetics. 2015;11(9):e1005498. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1005498
  8. Vélez de Mendizábal N, Jones DR, Jahn A, Bies RR, Brown JW. Nicotine and cotinine exposure from electronic cigarettes: A population approach. Clin Pharmacokinet. 2015;54(6):615-626. doi:10.1007/s40262-014-0221-7
  9. American Cancer Society. Why people start smoking and why it’s hard to stop.
  10. American Lung Association. What it means to be “nic-sick”.
  11. American Association of Poison Control Centers. E-cigarettes and liquid nicotine.
  12. American Association of Poison Control Centers. Tobacco and liquid nicotine.
  13. McLaughlin I, Dani JA, De Biasi M. Nicotine withdrawal. Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2015;24:99-123. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-13482-6_4
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By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.

How long nicotine stays in your system and ways to clear it out more quickly

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garlic

  • How long nicotine stays in your system depends on factors like how frequently you smoke, your age, and whether you take any medications.
  • Nicotine can stay in your blood for about three days, but nicotine can be detected in urine for up to three weeks.
  • In addition, nicotine can stay in your hair for about three months, and sometimes up to a year.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.

If you’re starting a new job or applying for health insurance, you may be asked to take a nicotine test. Every time you use tobacco, nicotine — a chemical compound found in tobacco — enters your body. It can be detected in the body for up to one year depending on the type of sample a nicotine test uses.

Here is what you need to know about how long nicotine stays in your system and how to clear it out quickly.

How does a nicotine test work?

Nicotine tests collect samples from either the hair, urine, saliva, or blood. Most nicotine tests don’t actually test for nicotine. Instead, they look for one of its by-products: cotinine.

“In the body, nicotine is broken into its derivatives, the most important being cotinine,” says Anis Rehman, MD, an assistant professor in the department of internal medicine at Southern Illinois University. “Cotinine usually lasts much longer than nicotine in the body. Therefore, most smoking tests look for cotinine.”

Nicotine tests are also able to determine if someone is using nicotine replacement therapy versus actively smoking. That’s because it also tests for anabasine, a compound found in tobacco that would not show up from nicotine replacements like patches or gum, says Sharita E. Warfield, MD, a board-certified emergency medicine physician.

And while both nicotine and cotinine can be present in non-smokers if they are around tobacco smoke, the quantity will be significantly lower. “People who are habitual smokers generally have about 30 to 50 ng/ml of nicotine in their blood, whereas non-smokers have less than five ng/ml,” says Warfield.

How long does nicotine stay in your system?

According to Warfield and Rehman, here’s how long nicotine and cotinine can be detected in the body, depending on what sample is being collected:

  • Blood: Nicotine can be detected in blood for about three days, and cotinine will last for about ten days.
  • Urine: In a regular smoker, nicotine and cotinine can be detected in urine for up to three weeks. In an infrequent user, nicotine only stays in the urine for about four days after smoking, and cotinine lasts for seven to ten days.
  • Saliva: Nicotine and cotinine stay in saliva for about four days.
  • Hair: Nicotine can stay in the hair for about three months, but can occasionally be detected for up to one year in a consistent smoker.

What factors influence how long nicotine stays in your system?

While tests can give a general idea of how recently you’ve smoked, other factors determine how long nicotine will register in your body.

How frequently you smoke

The most significant determinant of how long nicotine stays in your system is the quantity and frequency you smoke.

“The more a person uses tobacco products, the higher the concentration of nicotine and cotinine,” Warfield says.

Your age

As people get older, their metabolism tends to slow down, and they often become less active. This means the body metabolizes nicotine at a slower rate, so it stays in your system for longer, says Rehman.

Medications

Taking certain medications can change how fast your body processes nicotine. “For instance, antibiotics and phenobarbital [a medicine for controlling seizures] can speed up metabolism, whereas antifungals and some hypertension medications can slow down metabolism,” says Warfield.

A faster metabolism means you’ll flush nicotine out of your system more quickly than if you have a slower metabolism. Speak to your doctor if you are on any specific medications to see how they could impact your body’s ability to clear nicotine.

Hormone levels in your body

Women tend to metabolize nicotine faster than men, says Rehman. “Pregnant women or those on estrogen replacement therapy will clear nicotine faster. as estrogen facilitates nicotine metabolism more quickly,” he says. It is important to note that women who are pregnant should not use tobacco products as they can result in birth defects.

How to clear nicotine from your body

There are a few steps you can take to quickly clear nicotine from your body.

1. Stop smoking

Warfield says abstaining from tobacco products is the best, most direct way to clear nicotine from your system. When you and the people around you stop smoking, the nicotine in your body leaves, and no new quantities of the chemical will enter.

2. Drink water

Drinking more water and other fluids may assist the body in clearing nicotine out, says Rehman. That’s because an increase in urination may help flush out nicotine, and drinking more fluids will cause you to urinate more frequently.

3. Eat a healthy diet

Eating a mix of healthy foods that are high in antioxidants can activate the liver’s functions and help nicotine pass through your body at a faster rate. That’s because these foods boost metabolism, says Warfield.

Try incorporating foods such as:

The bottom line

The length of time nicotine stays in the body depends on what sample is being tested, but usually ranges from a few days to weeks. Cotinine, a derivative of nicotine that is often tested for, stays in your system for a longer period of time. Habits such as eating a healthy diet and drinking more water can help rid the body of nicotine more quickly.

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Sarah Fielding

Sarah Fielding is a freelance writer covering a range of topics with a focus on mental health and women’s issues. She is also the co-founder of Empire Coven, a space for highlighting trailblazing women across New York.

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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