If you’re just starting to wade into the world of vaping, the difference between nicotine salts and freebase vape juices, along with the wide varieties of devices that accompany those juice choices, may seem terribly confusing and complicated. Knowing the difference though can help you be much more successful in your journey, whether you’re trying to quit smoking, reduce your nicotine intake, or just want enjoy the vaping experience.
So let’s start our information journey in the 1960’s when Phillip Morris, the makers of Marlboro cigarettes wanted to make a more addictive product…
Nicotine extracted from tobacco leaves is, chemically speaking, a salt. That just means that in its elemental form it contains both a positive and a negative charge. The scientists working for Phillip Morris at the time realized that they could strip the “salt” proteins out of nicotine by using ammonia to increase the PH level of the compound, and thus changing it to a “base” state. The resulting “freebase” nicotine is a purer form (there is no residual ammonia when the process is complete) of nicotine that is more potent in the same dosage.
The resulting product was used as an additive to cigarettes for years to up their natural nicotine content. It was also introduced decades later in smoking cessation products like gums and patches before it eventually became the basis of the vaping technology that was developed in 2003.
The problem with freebase nicotine is that it is, chemically speaking, a “base.” Because it’s a base, it’s more alkaline and much harsher on the throat when inhaled. Therefore, most freebase juices have a lower concentration of nicotine to reduce the harsh throat hit, with the most popular juices having three to six milligrams.
As an aside here, to understand what six milligrams of nicotine means in relation to what dose of nicotine a cigarette delivers, you have to delve into nanograms. I’m not going to do a deep dive on the conversion here for you, but a typical cigarette delivers about 25 nanograms of nicotine that peaks within the first ten minutes of smoking and then drops to a sustained 10 nanograms of nicotine in the body for the next 30 to 60 minutes. In comparison, a six milligram freebase juice peaks at about five nanograms of nicotine, and drops to two to three nanograms over the next 30 minutes.
So now you may be thinking that nic salts are the original form of extracted nicotine, since in its purest form nicotine is a salt, but that’s not true either. The purest form of extracted nicotine is not only harsh, but has to be combusted at a really high temperature for the body to be able to absorb it, so this form is not at all practical in modern vaping.
Instead, when it became clear that freebase nicotine could use a little improvement for some forms of vaping, scientists figured out a way to add the “salt” proteins back into the freebase to lower the PH level. They do this by adding in citric or benzoic acid (but not salt, there is no sodium in a nicotine salt), which reduces the alkalinity and makes the throat hit much smoother while also increasing the absorption rate in the body.
For our next aside, it’s time to compare the nicotine dose of a salt based vape compared to a cigarette or the freebase juice we compared above. Remember, a cigarette delivered a 25 nanogram dose, while a six milligram freebase juice delivered a five-ish nanogram dose. Comparatively a 50 milligram salt nic vape juice delivers a 20 nanogram dose of nicotine that peaks within the first ten minutes of vaping and drops to five nanograms within thirty minutes. So in conclusion, salt based juices have an initial dose similar to a traditional cigarette, while freebase nicotine has a lower overall dose, but stays in the body longer.
Because of the high concentration, nicotine salts need to be vaped in a low wattage device. If they’re vaped at a high wattage, the experience is very uncomfortable. On the flip side, while a freebased nicotine can be vaped in a device made for nicotine salts, there is often a loss of flavor when doing so. The viscosity of freebase juice also makes it prone to leaking in the lower wattage devices, and it often loses much of the throat hit in those devices as well.
There is no health risk or benefit to using one type of juice over the other. Nicotine salts containing benzoic acid may cause some people to cough, and very rarely cause an allergic reaction in some users, but other than that there is no difference between the two types of juices.
If you’re trying to quit smoking, nicotine salts are going to give you an experience that’s the closest to smoking, which will make it easier to break the habit. Once you’ve put away the packs and lighters for good, you can worry about reducing your nicotine intake later.
If you’re already an experienced vaper, and are looking to reduce your nicotine intake, then freebase juices are the way to go. Additionally, if you just enjoy the vaping experience and have no previous dependency on nicotine, then using low or no nicotine juices makes the most sense.
No matter what your end goal is, stop into Vapemeisters, we’ll go over all of your options and help you find a solution to get there.