Nicotine salt vs. Freebase Nicotine
What is freebase nicotine?
Before we get into explanations about nic salts, it’s important to understand a bit more about the more common form of nicotine - freebase.
Cigarettes, nicotine replacement therapies (gum, patches, etc.), and traditional vape liquids contain freebase nicotine. It’s been the norm since the 1960s when Phillip Morris (of Marlboro fame) fronted the research which discovered that by freebasing nicotine, they could make their cigarettes stronger and, therefore, more addictive.
Freebasing is achieved by converting nicotine from its naturally occurring ‘salt’ state into its base ‘pure’ form. It’s a way of increasing potency without increasing the dose. Ammonia is used to strip protons from the nicotine salts which increases the pH level (alkalinity) and returns it to a deprotonated ‘freebase’ state.
So, if freebase nicotine is nicotine in its purest form, why would vapers benefit from a switch to nicotine salts? To answer that question fully, we first need to explore the main drawback of using freebase nicotine in e-liquid.
Now you know the science, let’s take a quick look at the major differences between freebase nicotine and nicotine salt to help you decide which is right for you.
What is nicotine salt?
First and foremost, what it is NOT is table salt (sodium chloride). It does not make your vape juice taste salty, and will not increase your sodium intake.
In chemistry, a salt is made up of a chemical reaction that has a positive charge (acid) and a negative charge (base).
Nicotine found in tobacco leaves has the chemical composition of a salt. In fact, tobacco leaves contain nicotine ONLY in its salt state. It is these exact same nicotine salts that are chemically altered to create freebase nicotine.
However, the chemical make-up of nicotine salt has a weak base which seeks out positively charged particles (protons) in order to become stable (ionised). Because ions have a hard time moving through our cell membranes, they don’t travel easily to the nicotine receptors in our body.
If unadulterated nic salts were added to the VG/PG that comprises e-liquid, it would need to be vaped at extremely high temperatures for the nicotine to be effective. Even then, the nicotine would still not be as easily absorbed (bioavailable) as its freebase counterpart. So, in order to make it effective, the nic salt requires a little chemical modification of its own.
Contains Benzoic or Citric acid
Is absorbed faster into the bloodstream
Is smooth at high doses
Can’t handle high flavour complexity
Does not enable large cloud production
Suited to mouth-to-lung vaping style
More expensive by volume
Suitable for high nicotine strengths
Ideal for new vapers, or mixed users
Well suited to pod vapes and lower power vape devices
Less liquid needed for comparable nicotine hit
Slow oxidation means longer shelf life
Contains no additives
Has a slower absorption rate
Is harsh at high doses
Can handle high flavour complexity
Enables large cloud production
Suited to mouth-to-lung or direct-to-lung vaping styles
Less expensive by volume
More suited to low and medium nicotine strengths
Suited to vapers with lower nicotine requirements
Higher power devices needed for maximum vaporising
More liquid needed for comparable nicotine hit
Faster oxidation means shorter shelf life
Which is safer - nicotine salt or freebase nicotine?
The only difference between nicotine salt vape juice and standard e-liquid is the addition of benzoic or citric acid. Since they are both naturally occurring in our bodies, salt nicotine is likely to be no more or less safe than freebase nicotine.
The World Health Organisation’s International Programme on Chemical Safety advises that we consume no more than 5 mg of these acids per kilogram of body weight per day; this equates to about 415 mg for an average 185 lb UK man, or 350 mg for an average 154 lb UK woman . It is unlikely that anybody would be able to vape that amount, considering that 1 ml of nicotine salt e-liquid contains just a few milligrams of benzoic or citric acid.
Which should you choose?
Nicotine salt e-liquid might be the right fit for you if you fit any of these criteria:
You want to quit smoking
You’ve tried vaping before but without success
You’re not looking for an overly technical vaping device
You want higher nicotine levels than regular e-liquid can provide