Freebase Nicotine E-liquid
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.
The downside to vaping freebase nicotine
The fundamental goal of vaping as a successful aid to smoking cessation is to make the sensation of vaping as close to that of smoking a cigarette as possible. For this to work, the efficiency of the nicotine delivery has to replicate that of traditional cigarettes.
Until recently, a freebase nicotine solution was the only way to deliver the nicotine required in your vape juice. The removal of the protons means that it is able to effectively travel through our cells to bind with the nicotine receptors in our lungs and brains.
However, we’ve already discussed that freebase nicotine has a higher pH value, which makes it more alkaline. This means that it is extremely harsh in high doses.
The throat hit from a high mg dose of freebase nicotine is found to be too severe for most vapers to enjoy, or even endure. This can lead to new vapers reducing the nicotine content of their eliquid to lessen the throat hit.
The negative effects of doing this is that reducing the nicotine levels too soon can cause vaping newbies to go rushing back to cigarettes when they don’t satisfy those early intense cravings.
Alternatively, they might choose to take more hits from their vape to satisfy the cravings, thereby increasing the amount of e-liquid they burn through and not seeing the cost savings they were promised.
The scientists behind nicotine salts for e-liquid wanted to find a way to remove the trade-off between fully satisfying the nicotine cravings, and getting a smooth vaping experience. Before we discover how they achieved that, let’s take a look at what nicotine salt actually is...