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How Long Does Nicotine (Cotinine) Stay In Your System?

Nicotine is a parasympathomimetic alkaloid derived from Solanaceae plant and is commonly considered one of the most addictive drugs in the world.  Upon ingestion of nicotine, it is rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream, and within 10 seconds it reaches your brain.  In the brain, it stimulates the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR) as an agonist to promote increases in arousal, alertness, and cognitive function.

In addition, ingestion of nicotine increases levels of various neurotransmitters including: acetylcholine, beta-endorphin, epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine, dopamine, and more.  The rapid release of these neurotransmitters gives users a short-term pleasurable “buzz.”  Although pleasurable, this “buzz” fades quickly, leaving users to crave another nicotine fix to re-experience the short-term pleasure and simultaneously prevent dysphoria associated with nicotine withdrawal.

Though some would argue that there may be cognitive benefits of nicotine when used intermittently, frequent long-term usage is more likely to leave users functioning at a deficit without their nicotine fix.  Since many people realize that frequent nicotine usage (especially in the form of tobacco products) is not only costly, but a hazard to long-term health – many have decided to kick the habit.  During the process of discontinuation, most users want to know how long it takes to fully clear nicotine from their system.

How Long Does Nicotine Stay In Your System?

Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut universal timeline to determine how quickly nicotine will be eliminated from your system.  Since nicotine has a half life of approximately 2 hours, it theoretically should be cleared from your body within 11 hours.  That said, not everyone will experience complete clearance of nicotine from their system within an 11 hour period.

Most people can expect nicotine to be fully eliminated from their system within 24 hours.  This is due to the fact that following ingestion of nicotine, an enzyme known as cytochrome P450 rapidly metabolizes it in the liver, along with UDP-glucuronosyltransfease (UGT), and flavin-containing monooxygenase (FMO).  Despite the rapid processing of nicotine by cytochrome P450, the nicotine metabolite “cotinine” will remain in your system for a longer duration as a result of its extended half life (10 to 27 hours).

In other words, nicotine is rapidly eliminated within a period of 24 hours, whereas its metabolite cotinine takes much longer to fully clear from your system.  If you are subject to a nicotine drug test, it will likely assess for the presence of cotinine (rather than nicotine).  For most nicotine users, cotinine could remain in your system for a period of 2.29 to 6.18 days.

Factors that influence how long nicotine stays in your system

There are a multitude of factors to consider when contemplating how long nicotine will stay in your system following discontinuation.  The length of time that nicotine stays in your system will depend primarily upon individual factors (e.g. age, hormone levels, food intake), modality of nicotine administration, and possibly the frequency by which a person uses nicotine.

  1. Individual variation

It is important to consider many individual factors that influence the speed by which nicotine is metabolized and eliminated from the body.  These individual factors can include things like: age, food intake, hormone levels (specifically estrogen), medical conditions, and medications.  It is also thought that the time of day during which you ingest nicotine, as well as other lifestyle factors may dictate speed of clearance.

Age: Among elderly individuals (ages 65+), nicotine is cleared at a slower rate than younger adults.  It is estimated that the elderly clear nicotine up to 23% less efficiently than younger adults.  In part, this is thought to be a result of two factors: reduced blood flow to the liver (from old age) and a reduction in lean body mass.

There is also some research suggesting that newborns may be unable to process nicotine as efficiently as children, teens, and adults – due to lack of liver blood-flow.  This is thought to result in nearly a 4-fold longer clearance period.  However, other research has noted that the actual clearance term is not extended among newborns.

Estrogen levels: Research has shown that females are able to clear nicotine from their body faster than males.  This is largely due to the fact that women have greater levels of estrogen than men.  Greater levels of estrogen appear to enhance activation of the enzyme CYP2A6 as a result of increased estrogenic receptor stimulation, resulting in quicker metabolism and clearance of nicotine.

During pregnancy, estrogen levels increase significantly, and functioning of CYP2A6 is thought to be upregulated.  This results in superior nicotine metabolism and clearance (by up to 60%) among pregnant women compared to non-pregnant women; the active metabolite “cotinine” is also more efficiently processed among women who are pregnant.  Furthermore, the enzymatic activity of FMO3 (flavin-containing monooxygenase 3) is thought to be enhanced among pregnant women, thereby expediting the clearance rate of nicotine.

Oral contraceptives have also been proven to enhance the clearance of nicotine (and cotinine), likely stemming from increased estrogenic stimulation.  Specifically, research has shown that women taking oral contraceptives are able to increase nicotine clearance by up to 30% compared to women not taking oral contraceptives.  That said, even among non-pregnant, non-contraceptive using women, nicotine clearance is up to 13% greater compared to men; likely due to baseline estrogen levels.

Food intake: Since nicotine is metabolized by enzymes in the liver, blood-flow to the liver aids in promoting quicker metabolism.  When blood-flow to the liver is restricted, metabolism of nicotine may be slower.  Individuals that consume food with nicotine in their system experience a notable decline in nicotine concentrations.  It is estimated that blood-flow to the liver increases by approximately 30% following a meal, resulting in a nearly 40% nicotine clearance increase post-meal.

Genetics: Differences in metabolism of nicotine have been noticed between various races and ethnic groups.  Some research indicates that metabolism and clearance of nicotine (and cotinine) is slower among African-Americans compared to Caucasians.  It is speculated that these differences could be chalked up to inheritance of genes responsible for regulation of the enzyme CYP2A6.  Individuals who inherit genes that promote increased expression of CYP2A6 are able to metabolize nicotine at a quicker rate.

Medical conditions: Individuals with various medical conditions affecting kidney function (e.g. renal failure) decreases a person’s ability to clear nicotine.  Among those with kidney failure, the clearance of nicotine is reduced by nearly 50% compared to individuals with normative kidney function.  Poor kidney functioning is associated with increased accumulation of toxic waste that interferes with CYP2A6 enzyme activity and/or expression.

Medications / supplements: Those taking certain drugs to treat medical conditions may find that they either upregulate or downregulate CYP2A6 functioning.  Drugs that upregulate CYP2A6 functioning are associated with quicker clearance of nicotine.  Examples of such drugs include: artemisinin, dexamethasone, phenobarbital, and rifampicin.

On the other hand, drugs that downregulate CYP2A6 functioning are associated with slower clearance of nicotine.  Examples of such drugs include: coumarin, methoxsalen, tranylcypromine, tryptamine.  It should also be considered that various dietary supplements could modulate the speed by which nicotine is metabolized.

Time of day: The time of day during which you ingest nicotine is thought to influence rate of clearance from your system.  When you sleep, blood flow to your liver is restricted and it takes longer for your body to metabolize nicotine than when you’re awake.  The rate of clearance is thought to slow between the window of 6 PM and 3 AM, but may be influenced by individual variation in circadian rhythms and food intake.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12521401
  1. Modality of Ingestion + Format + Menthol content

It is known that the modality by which an individual ingests nicotine will affect how long nicotine stays in their system.  Ingesting nicotine via non-smoking methods (e.g. transdermal patches, lozenges, gums) results in more efficient metabolism compared to smoking.  Although cigarette smoking is known to expedite metabolism of other drugs, it actually slows the clearance of nicotine.

Smoking cigarettes: Those who smoke cigarettes clear nicotine from their bodies at a slower rate than non-smokers.  Studies have taken individuals, measured the speed of nicotine clearance following smoking, and then taken those same individuals and measured clearance speed from non-smoking nicotine ingestion.  It was discovered that if smokers abstain from smoking for a full week, their ability to metabolize nicotine increases by up to 36%.

The reason smoking cigarettes results in poorer metabolism of nicotine is due to the additional chemicals in the cigarette.  Tobacco products contain thousands of unknown chemicals that are thought to be hazardous to human health.  Ingestion of these chemicals is thought to inhibit the metabolic activity of CYP2A6, resulting in slower metabolism of nicotine.  One such chemical called “beta-nicotyrine” may be responsible for the CYP2A6 inhibition associated with cigarettes.

  • Depth of inhalation: The depth of each inhalation will determine how much nicotine reaches your system.
  • Number of puffs: The number of total puffs that you take per cigarette will influence how much nicotine you attain from smoking.
  • Air dilution: The air in your environment will influence whether you inhale more or less overall “smoke” from your cigarette. For example, someone who smokes outside may inhale less total smoke than someone smoking in their house.
  • Brand: For all nicotine-containing products, the specific brand and/or product will influence how much nicotine is absorbed.

Chewing tobacco: Those who don’t smoke may resort to using chewing tobacco to attain their nicotine fix.  Chewing tobacco allows for oral absorption of nicotine through the mucous membrane of the mouth.  Users of chewing tobacco absorb nicotine at a quicker rate than those who smoke, but nicotine reaches the brain at a slower rate.

Blood levels of nicotine from chewing tobacco are thought to peak at 30 minutes post-ingestion, with levels plummeting for approximately 2 hours thereafter.  Since there are thousands of chemicals in chewing tobacco, it could be speculated that some may interfere with the metabolism of nicotine.  It is unclear as to whether nicotine is more efficiently among cigarette smokers or those who use chewing tobacco.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT): Many people use nicotine replacement therapy products in the form of gums, transdermal patches, lozenges, sublingual tablets, etc.  These products generally are absorbed at a slower rate than smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco.  As a result, both blood and brain levels of nicotine increase gradually – reducing the likelihood of abuse.  Since these don’t contain the thousands of other chemicals found in tobacco products, they are thought to be more efficiently cleared from your system.

  • Nicotine gum: Some people may use nicotine gum as a nicotine replacement therapy product. This provides a constant fix of nicotine to mitigate full-blown withdrawal symptoms and cravings associated with cessation.  Nicotine gum is thought to be efficiently absorbed and metabolized.
  • Transdermal patch: Skin patches are commonly used as a means of attaining nicotine without the harmful chemicals in tobacco products. Transdermal patches may be absorbed at a slower rate, but metabolized efficiently by the liver.
  • Lozenges: Certain individuals may prefer to purchase lozenges which provide a constant supply of nicotine through mucous membranes in the mouth. Since there aren’t usually chemicals in these lozenges that interfere with nicotine metabolism, it is efficiently processed.
  • Sublingual tablets: These are tablets that are placed under the tongue and dissolve to provide a fix of nicotine, without tobacco. These are absorbed orally through mucous membranes in the mouth.  The duration of effect associated with these tablets will depend on the specific brand utilized.
  • Nasal spray: It should be noted that nicotine “nasal spray” is different from other nicotine replacement therapy products in that it rapidly delivers nicotine to the brain; similar to smoking. Due to the lack of chemicals in nicotine replacement therapy nasal spray compared to tobacco products, it is thought that it should be more efficiently metabolized.

The speed of metabolism among these variations in nicotine replacement therapy should be based upon the speed of absorption and duration of effect.  This will likely be subject to variability based on the specific modality of nicotine replacement therapy, as well as the specific brand and/or product that is purchased.  For example, a nicotine lozenge by one company may contain a greater dosage and elicit a longer duration of effect compared to another; these differences are important to consider.

Menthol content: If you ingested nicotine along with menthol (contained within certain cigarettes, dental products, and even some foods) – metabolism of nicotine is altered.  This is due to the fact that ingestion of menthol inhibits CYP2A6, the chief enzyme responsible for metabolizing nicotine [in the liver].  Therefore if you smoke methol-based cigarettes, you can expect nicotine to stay in your system for a longer duration than if you had smoked non-menthol cigarettes.

  • Source: http://pharmrev.aspetjournals.org/content/57/1/79.full
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2953858/
  1. Dosage of Nicotine

The dosage of nicotine ingested will influence the duration over which it stays in a person’s system.  Like many drugs, the dosage of nicotine administered will influence the speed by which their system is able to metabolize and excrete it.  A person who smokes 10 cigarettes will theoretically take much longer to clear nicotine from his/her body compared to a person who smokes just 2 cigarettes per day.

Assuming we’re dealing with the same brand of cigarettes, and each cigarette yields 1 mg of absorbed nicotine, 10 cigarettes will yield 10 mg of absorbed nicotine, compared to 2 cigarettes yielding 2 mg of absorbed nicotine.  Once it has entered the bloodstream, nicotine is dispersed throughout the body and accumulates within tissues.

The larger the dosage ingested, the greater the accumulation of nicotine.  Since nicotine is subject to reabsorption prior to its clearance, it will take longer for a person to fully process and excrete 10 mg compared to 2 mg.  Among those who ingest greater dosages of nicotine, the clearance of cotinine (nicotine’s primary metabolite) will take longer compared to those who ingest smaller doses.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8453850
  1. Frequency of Usage

It is no secret that individuals who use nicotine more frequently have a greater chance of building up tolerance to its effect than those who use it infrequently.  Each time a person ingests nicotine, their brain’s reward pathway remodels itself via long-term potentiation (LTP) and synaptic plasticity – reinforcing their decision to use.  This “feedback loop” makes it even tougher to quit nicotine following each successive administration.

Duration and frequency of usage are known to alter rates of nicotine clearance.  The greater the number of times a person uses nicotine products throughout the day, the slower they will clear nicotine from their system.  In part this is due to the fact that greater frequency of usage often results in a greater total dosage of ingested nicotine, leading to increased nicotine accumulation throughout bodily tissues.

For this reason, more frequent smokers should expect to clear nicotine (and its metabolites) at a much slower pace than infrequent smokers.  Those that seldom use nicotine are able to clear it more efficiently from their system because less has accumulated within tissues and less is being reabsorbed prior to elimination. Understand that both frequency of usage and dosing usually go hand-in-hand.

The more frequently a person uses nicotine, the greater their level of tolerance is likely to be.  The more tolerance an individual to nicotine (as a result of frequent usage), the greater the dosage they are likely to ingest.  Furthermore, it could be speculated that frequent usage of nicotine may trigger physiological adaptations (e.g. downregulation of certain enzymes) to prolong clearance.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9209247/

Nicotine Absorption (How it is absorbed by the body)

It is important to understand that the absorption of nicotine is directly related to its pH level.  In general, the greater the alkalinity of the nicotine (as evidenced by pH), the more efficiently it can be absorbed through the cell membranes.  On the other hand, the greater the acidity of the nicotine (as a result of the pH), the poorer the absorption.

Consider flue-cured tobacco smoke with a pH between 5.5 and 6.0 – indicating acidity.  Since it is more acidic, the nicotine is ionized and isn’t absorbed as well as air-cured tobacco smoke.  Air-cured tobacco smoke (such as that from a pipe) tends to have a pH greater than 6.5, indicating a higher alkalinity with unionized nicotine content.

Smoking cigarettes: When it comes to the smoke of a traditional cigarette, the pH is regarded as being largely unionized, resulting in expedited absorption via the lungs.  When an individual inhales tobacco smoke, portions of the lungs called “small airways” and “alveoli” are responsible for absorption, largely due to their large surface area.  The nicotine is then transferred across cell membranes and blood concentrations continue to increase until an individual has finished smoking.

Chewing tobacco: Those use chewing tobacco are ingesting nicotine with an alkaline pH, resulting in improved absorption through mucous membranes within the mouth.  Despite the fact that chewing tobacco is more rapidly absorbed than smoking cigarettes (as a result of greater alkalinity), brain levels of nicotine actually increase at a slower rate.  Studies have demonstrated that nicotine blood levels rise gradually among those who use chewing tobacco, peaking at approximately 30 minutes – and diminishing over a 2 hour period.

Nicotine replacement therapy: The array of nicotine replacement therapy products such as nicotine gums, patches, lozenges, sublingual tablets, inhalers, etc. – are all engineered with a greater alkalinity to facilitate enhanced absorption via cell membranes.  All nicotine replacement products are absorbed at a slow rate by the body, and blood concentrations of nicotine increase at a reduced rate.

As a result of their slower delivery, their abuse potential is minimal compared to tobacco products.  Understand that different brands and formats of nicotine replacement therapy products may have different rates of nicotine delivery.  Differing rates of delivery results in variance in absorption, blood concentrations of nicotine, and clearance speed.

Following absorption of nicotine, it is transmitted to the bloodstream and then transported throughout the entire body.  Regions of the body that have the greatest affinity for nicotine include: the liver, kidney, spleen, and lungs.  In addition, nicotine is capable of binding to numerous brain receptors, including nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs).

The more a person smokes, the easier it is for nicotine to bind to these receptors because with each successive smoke session, there is an upregulation in nAChRs.  The time it takes for nicotine to accumulate within the brain and body tissues is a direct result of dosage and modality of ingestion.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3391001

How is Nicotine Metabolized and Excreted?

Following absorption of nicotine, it is chiefly metabolized by the liver, and ultimately converted into 6 metabolites.  Nearly 80% of nicotine is converted into the metabolite “cotinine” which is why an individual is tested for cotinine to determine whether they are a smoker.  The metabolic conversion of nicotine to cotinine is a 2-step process by which: the enzyme CYP2A6 manufactures a nicotine-Δ1′ (5′)-iminium ion, and then oxidized to cotinine by way of aldehyde oxidase.

Up to 7% of the nicotine is metabolized into “nicotine N’-oxide.”  The breakdown of nicotine into nicotine N’-oxide occurs by way of the enzyme FMO3 (flavin-containing monooxygenase 3).  Examples of the 4 remaining metabolites resulting from nicotine metabolism include: Nicotine Glucuronide (5%), 2’Hydroxynicotine (<1%), Isomethonium Ion, Nornicotine, and

Since up to 80% of nicotine is metabolized into the cotinine metabolite, it is important to understand how cotinine is further metabolized.  Like nicotine, cotinine has 6 notable metabolites including: 3′-hydroxycotinine (40%), cotinine glucuronide (15%), 5′-hydroxycotinine, cotinine N-oxide, cotinine methonium ion, and norcotinine.  Among those who smoke, 3′-hydroxycotinine is the chief metabolite detected in urine.

Upon metabolism of nicotine, it is excreted from the body primarily via urine.  Individuals with acidic urine tend to clear nicotine faster from their systems due to the fact that reabsorption is less likely.  Those with alkaline urine may reabsorb some of the nicotine, thereby extending the term of clearance.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15734728/
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15528319

Types of Nicotine Testing / Cotinine Testing

Like most drug tests, nicotine usage can be detected via blood draws, urine samples, saliva swabs, and hair analysis.  While some tests may assess for the presence of nicotine, most will assess for the presence of cotinine, a metabolite of nicotine with a long half life.

Blood tests: Qualitative blood tests can be administered to determine whether a person has recently ingested nicotine.  These tests are generally very accurate and are basically a “pass” vs. “fail” in that a person either has nicotine (or cotinine) in their system, or they don’t.  On the other hand, a quantitative blood test may be administered to detect whether nicotine (or cotinine) levels are above a certain threshold.

Quantitative blood tests generally seek to determine how much nicotine a person had been ingesting.  A person will generally test positive for nicotine for a period of 1 to 4 days following their most recent ingestion.  Individuals may test positive for the metabolite “cotinine” for up to 10 days following discontinuation.

In rare cases, a person may test positive on a blood test without having ingested any nicotine.  This is usually due to the presence of the chemical thiocyanate, commonly derived from vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and mustard.  It is also important to consider the possibility of laboratory errors whenever subjected to blood testing.

Urine tests: Urine tests are often preferred over blood tests to detect the presence of nicotine because they are less invasive.  It is simple to collect a fresh urine sample and analyze it for the presence of the nicotine metabolite “cotinine.”  The threshold level of cotinine required to test positive is usually set at 200 ng/ml; anyone testing over this amount is thought to have recently used nicotine products.

Smokers can be distinguished from non-smokers at a lower threshold of just 50 ng/ml on a urine test.  In most cases, the presence of nicotine will be apparent within the urine for a period of 2 to 4 days following complete cessation of usage.  Among regular smokers, cotinine metabolites will likely take longer to clear from the urine (up to 2 weeks).  For long-term heavy smokers, it could take 3 weeks to pass a urinary assessment for the presence of cotinine (perhaps longer if menthol was ingested).

There are many cheap, reliable over-the-counter urine tests that can be taken in which a test strip is dipped into a urine sample for 5 to 10 minutes.  The strips will then read either “positive” or “negative” based on the presence of cotinine.  Many of these at-home urine tests are considered nearly 100% accurate and are FDA approved.

Saliva tests: Saliva tests are considered non-invasive, simple to administer, and highly-accurate; hence they are commonly used.  Those subject to saliva-based nicotine testing will provide a sample of saliva for collection and analysis.  This saliva sample will be soaked on a test strip for approximately 20 minutes to determine whether it reacts with cotinine.  The degree to which the strip reacts with cotinine dictates the degree to which an individual had ingested nicotine.

Saliva test strips are typically numbered from 0 to 6 – the greater the number, the more nicotine exposure.  For example, a “0” on the test strip would indicate that a person has ingested a negligible amount of nicotine, whereas a “6” would indicate a significant amount of nicotine ingestion.

  • 0 = 1-10 ng/ml
  • 1 = 10-30 ng/ml
  • 2 = 30-100 ng/ml
  • 3 = 100-200 ng/ml
  • 4 = 200-500 ng/ml
  • 5 = 500-2000 ng/ml
  • 6 = 2000+ ng/ml

Saliva tests are also able to detect nicotine at much lower levels (between 0 ng/ml and 2000 ng/ml) than urinary testing, which provides an advantage in terms of accuracy.  Nicotine can be detected in saliva for up to 10 hours, whereas cotinine may be detected for up to 4 days among certain individuals.  At just 15 ng/ml, a smoker can be accurately distinguished from a non-smoker on a saliva test.

Hair tests: If attempting to determine whether a person has used nicotine over a longer duration (e.g. 3 months), a hair test is preferred.  These tests involve collecting a hair follicle from the scalp to be analyzed; if an individual is bald, hair from other bodily regions can be collected.  Hair tests are considered highly accurate in determining whether a person has “used” or “not used” nicotine within a 90 day period.

Since the average person’s hair grows at a rate of 1 cm per month, a hair test could reveal the specific degree of exposure during each of the previous three months.  Despite the accuracy of hair tests, they aren’t commonly used compared to other testing modalities.  This is due to the fact that it’s difficult to determine the precise amount of nicotine usage and specifics in regards to how recently someone has used; they only pinpoint to the nearest month.

Why are nicotine tests administered?

There are many reasons for administering nicotine tests.  These reasons include: testing for underage tobacco usage, detecting health/life insurance fraud, testing employees, and/or keeping a person honest who is attempting to stay tobacco (or nicotine) free.

  • Employers: Certain employers may mandate that employees stay tobacco free and/or recommend against using tobacco. It is possible that employers may test employees for the presence of nicotine and/or cotinine to determine whether they’ve been using tobacco.  This is especially common among employers in healthcare industries, with many implementing “smoke-free” hiring programs.
  • Health insurance: Health insurance companies may require that their customers take a nicotine test. It is known that you save money on health insurance by being a non-smoker.  However, many smokers attempt to “cheat” their health insurance company by claiming that they do not smoke.  As a result, health insurance companies may issue nicotine tests in effort to detect fraud among consumers.  This is also common among life insurance companies; the more a person uses tobacco products – the greater their risk of death.
  • Underage tobacco usage: Though tobacco usage is legal for adults in the United States, it is illegal for minors (those under age 18). Nicotine testing is sometimes administered to determine whether an underage individual has been illegally using tobacco products. Parents and/or law enforcement agents could have minors tested for the presence of nicotine (or its metabolite, cotinine).
  • Tobacco-free commitment: In some cases, former nicotine users may agree to regular testing in effort to keep themselves honest. They may have family members, friends, and/or mentors that aim to hold them accountable for their usage.  As a result, the family members, friends, and/or mentors may require that the person agree to random nicotine testing.

Tips to Clear Nicotine from Your System Quickly

Although nicotine has a relatively short half-life, it accumulates within bodily tissues among frequent smokers and the presence of cotinine takes awhile to eliminate.  If you have a nicotine test, you may be interested in learning some tricks to help expedite the clearance of nicotine (and cotinine) from your system.  Below is a list of various tips that may help you speed up your ability to process and excrete nicotine.

  1. Immediately stop using nicotine: If you want to ensure the quickest clearance of nicotine (and cotinine) from your body, it is imperative that you immediately cease using nicotine – it’s that simple. The quicker you stop using, the more likely it is that you’ll pass a drug test and be able to function without nicotine’s presence.  Although it may be difficult to quit smoking cigarettes, it may be necessary in order to pass a drug test.  Assuming you want your system to fully eliminate nicotine, complete cessation is necessary.
  2. Vitamin C supplements: Studies have confirmed that taking vitamin C (ascorbic acid) supplements can increase your body’s ability to process nicotine. Vitamin C supplementation should theoretically increase the odds that you’ll pass a nicotine drug test. This is evidenced by a study conducted with 75 men who smoked at least 1 pack of cigarettes per day.  Results indicated that body levels of ascorbic acid affect levels of nicotine metabolites in the urine.  Specifically, individuals with sufficient ascorbic acid had lower levels of nicotine metabolites compared to those with lower levels.  In addition to aiding in the reduction of nicotine metabolites, vitamin C is acidic – which is known to prevent reabsorption of nicotine prior to elimination.
  3. Drink water (stay hydrated): Another relatively obvious tip when attempting to clear nicotine from your system is to stay hydrated. Proper hydration helps your body efficiently clear toxins and flush nicotine from your system. However, it is important to understand the difference between over-hydration and proper hydration; over-hydration could result in physiological impairment.
  4. Exercise: Many people fail to consider that exercise could provide benefit in clearing nicotine from their body. Exercising is known to speed up metabolism, enhance physiological functioning, and improve health.  Furthermore,  regular exercise is thought to help flush out exogenous substances such as nicotine.
  5. Eat the right foods: You’ll want to make sure that you’re eating optimal foods to help your body metabolize and clear nicotine. You may want to eat an acidic diet with foods like: beef, eggs, turkey, pork, rice, and eggs. Increasing your acidity may help prevent reabsorption of nicotine prior to excretion via urine.  Foods that you consume should contain plenty of fiber and antioxidants, as this will help ensure that your body is operating at its best and facilitating the removal of toxins.  Some have suggested that eating foods to increase bile in the liver such as eggs, onions, and garlic may also provide benefit for nicotine clearance.
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10600424

How long has nicotine stayed in your system?

If you’re a tobacco user, mention how long you believe nicotine stayed in your system upon cessation of usage.  To help others better understand your situation, mention the frequency and duration over which you used tobacco products prior to cessation.  If you had to guess, what was your average daily intake of nicotine derived from tobacco usage?

Among those that have been subject to nicotine drug testing, discuss the type of test that was administered, as well as whether you “passed” or “failed.”  Mention the specific threshold of nicotine (or cotinine) associated with the test, as well as the time span over which you had stopped using nicotine prior to the testing.  If you passed your nicotine test, would you consider it lucky or were you able to use some tricks to speed up nicotine clearance?

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{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Marissa August 11, 2018, 11:23 am

    I stopped vaping about 4-5 days ago but I took about 10 puffs yesterday Saturday and my test is Tuesday. It was very little. Do you think I would fail the nicotine test still?!

  • Miranda April 24, 2018, 12:34 am

    I went 21 days without a cigarette and 3 days making my husband smoke outdoors. I still failed a urine test for nicotine and metabolites and I was only smoking 3-5 cigs a day prior. How is that possible? Everything I have read says 2-3 weeks tops, so IDK. Is it because I smoked menthol cigarettes?

  • Mindy April 17, 2018, 11:17 pm

    I quit smoking for 11 days. I didn’t do anything special and I passed my urine test the morning of the 11th.

  • Kelly March 20, 2018, 3:32 pm

    I chew approximately 4 pieces of 4mg nicotine gum per day since I’ve quit vaping – which has been about 2 months ago. I haven’t had a cigarette in probably 5 years now. How long will it take for the nicotine gum to get out of my system for a nicotine test?

  • Melanie Krause March 14, 2018, 6:19 pm

    I was scheduled to have brain surgery next week, but my insurance denied my surgery because I’m a smoker, and have to wait 4 weeks til they test me. They won’t tell me what kind of test I’ll be taking. I can’t use any quit smoking aids, as they will put more nicotine in my system.

    I have cut way back, 1 whole one in the morning, then a couple puffs from my husband’s throughout the day. But have had bad days, where I have a couple whole ones! I know I have to completely quit in order to pass whatever test they give me. Help!!!!

  • Sarah February 27, 2017, 11:48 pm

    I usually only smoke a pack of non menthol cigs in 4 days. I haven’t had a cigarette in 5 days. My question is, if I smoked 1 cig today, a Misty, very light. Would I test positive for nicotine in 3 days?

  • Elaine February 23, 2017, 6:46 pm

    4 day Cotinine flush regimen for pre-employment urine Cotinine testing.

    (Female, average build, 1/2 pk/day non menthol smoker and here is what I used and my results. Hope it helps!)

    1. Cotinine urine drug screen kits (Amazon 10/pk)
    2. R.W Knudsen cranberry juice. 1/2-1 Qt/day. Equal to sweeten. (Walmart)
    3. 1/2-1 Gal of water daily
    4. GNC Waterex. 2 capsules at HS
    5. GNC Waterout 2 capsules in AM
    6. GNC Vitamin C 500 with rose hips 4 capsules daily AM and HS.
    7. Vitamin B Complex 2 daily AM and HS.
    8. Organic Detox Tea-Yogi Roasted Dandelion Spice Detox 4 cups daily (Walmart)
    9. Azo Urinary tract health cranberry 4 tabs daily AM and HS.
    10. Lots if chewing gum.
    11. A non-nicotine e-cigarette or vape helps. I went to a specialty smoke shop to purchase.
    12. No smoking and stay away from second hand smoke!

    Tests all negative 4 days after smoking about a pack.

  • J December 7, 2016, 2:44 pm

    Hey, I quit smoking for 5 days, did vitamin C, milk thistle, garlic and water and exercise. Passed. Good luck.

  • Ceviche September 23, 2016, 1:50 pm

    I’m curious as to how many insurance companies actually do the ‘hair’ test… anyone know? This seems to be more of a sure tell-tale sign of smoking…

  • Ashley August 23, 2016, 8:03 pm

    I quit smoking 9 days ago. I used to smoke 10-15 cig a day. I quit cold turkey and drink lots of water. I am somewhat of an active person… (I walk everyday at least 4 miles). Do you think nicotine would still show up in a saliva test? I am however around second hand smoke. How much will that effect it?

  • user May 18, 2016, 10:59 pm

    Good News for all who are awaiting for Nicotine test for pre employment. I had stopped Smoking on 05/13. Before that I used to smoke almost 1 pack (20 cig Marlboro 100) in a day. I ordered COT Kit from Amazon and Today (05/18) I tested my self the COT test for Nicotine and it came negative… So I was completely 6 days without cig, Drank water and Orange/Cranberry juice daily and got the result. So don’t worry. In spite of being a heavy smoker, I was able to achieve the negative result in 6 days. Still I have few days left for my actual nicotine test, I am confident for this.

    • Jesse September 7, 2016, 12:59 am

      Wish people could post the updates to their test!

    • Justin January 7, 2018, 9:33 pm

      Did you remember which MG level of COT test you ordered? I have ordered 10mg.

  • Autumn May 18, 2016, 10:47 pm

    If I smoke a pack a day for 18 years and took a nicotine test today, and was positive but quit 3 days ago, how much longer till it’s out? I have another nicotine test May 27th. Will it be out if I follow all the tips like water, vitamin c, cranberry juice and exercise?

    • George June 14, 2016, 3:27 pm

      Did it work Autumn?

  • Carmen February 23, 2016, 12:28 pm

    I stopped smoking in Dec 2015 yet a blood test still indicates carbon monoxide which indicates I still smoked. How is this possible? I feel like I should just start smoking again since lab tests say I smoke when I don’t.

    • Joe May 8, 2016, 12:14 pm

      Carbon monoxide is present everywhere you go: Car exhaust, second-hand smoke, gas-fired heaters… it’s in the atmosphere. Your test administrator is at fault.

  • AnnMarie Courtney February 4, 2016, 9:30 am

    Will it show up on in a blood test that I smoked cigarettes 28 hours before the blood test and also drank alcohol? I’m not a regular smoker. It’s been months since my last cigarette.

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