Other Names

Nicotin, nikotin, (-) -nikotin , 1-methyl-2(3-pyridyl)pyrrolidineAmphetamines with a pyrrolidine group.,

3-( 1-methyl-2-pyrrolidinyl)pyridine

Substance type: pyrrolidineAmphetamines with a pyrrolidine group. alkaloid, pyridine alkaloid,

tobacco alkaloid

Nicotine was first discovered in tobacco (Nicotiana

tabacum) and was named for the genus. It

occurs in numerous species of Nicotiana as well as

other members of the Nightshade Family. It has

also been found in club moss (Lycopodium


Nicotine is very easily absorbed through the

mucous membranes and even through the skin.

Consequently, plants that contain nicotine can be

smoked or administered as enemas. Nicotine is

broken down through oxidation, and about 100/0 is

excreted unchanged. It has stimulating effects

upon the central nervous system and has paralyzing

effects at very high dosages (cf. cytisine). In

the peripheral nervous system, nicotine behaves in

a similar manner as the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

High dosages can result in sudden death

due to respiratory paralysis or cardiac arrest

within five minutes of ingestion (Roth et al. 1994,

864*). From 40 to 60 mg represents a lethal dosage

for humans (Frerichs, Arends, Zarnig, Hagers

Handbuch). Diazepam can be effective as an

antidote for nicotine poisoning (Roth et al. 1994,

865*). Nicotine is now generally regarded as

highly "addictive" (Schiffman 1981). Although it is

commonly assumed that nicotine causes cancer,

uncertainty has been expressed about this theory

(Schievelbein 1972).

Nicotine has been detected in Egyptian rnummies

(New Kingdom) (Balabanova et al. 1992*).

However, this discovery should not be taken as

evidence that the Egyptians knew of wild tobacco

(Nicotiana rustica) , as the Balabanova team in

Munich has suggested, for some Old World plants

also contain nicotine (see the table at right).

Commercial Forms and Regulations

Nicotine can be obtained in its pure form from

chemical suppliers. It is subject to the laws

covering the transport of dangerous substances

and is classified as a Category 1 substance on the

Swiss Poison List. In the United States, pure

nicotine is available only with a prescription (Ott

1993, 447*). In Germany, it is subject to the laws

regarding dangerous substances but is not

regarded as a "narcotic."
Plants Containing Nicotine

(from Bock 1994,93*; Rampp 1995,2995*;

Schultes and Raffauf 1991, 37*; supplemented)

Stock Plant Plant Part(s)
Arum maculatum 1. herbage
(cuckoo pint)  
Asclepias syriaca 1.  
(Syrian milkweed)  
Equisetum palustre 1. herbage
(marsh horsetail; cf.  
Equisetum arvense)  
Erythroxylum coca roots, stems
Erythroxylum spp.  
Acacia retinodes Schlechtend. leaves
(cf. Acacia spp.)  
Mucuna pruriens leaves
Lycopodium spp. (club moss; herbage
cf. Trichocereus pachanoi)  
Cestrum spp. (cf. Cestrum ,  
nocturnum Cestrum parqui)  
Cyphomandra spp.  
Datura metel herbage
Duboisia hopwoodii leaves
Duboisia spp. leaves, bark
Nicotiana rustica entire plant
Nicotiana tabacum entire plant
Nicotiana spp.  


See also the entries for Nicotiana rustica, Nicotiana

tabacum, and Nicotiana spp.

Lee, Richard S., and Mary Price Lee. 1994. Caffeine

and nicotine. New York: The Rosen Publishing


Schievelbein, H. 1972. Biochemischer

Wirkungsmechanismus des Nikotins oder seiner

Abbauprodukte hinsichtlich eines eventuellen

carcinogenen, mutagenen oder teratogenen

Effektes. Planta Medica 22:293-305.

Shiffman, Saul. 1981. Tabakkonsum und

Nikotinabhangigkeit. In Rausch und Realitiit, ed.

G. Volger, 2:780-83. Cologne: RautenstrauchJoest-

Museum fur Volkerkunde.

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