Nicotine is the addictive chemical found in cigarettes and other tobacco products. When you smoke, your body breaks down nicotine and turns it into cotinine. Cotinine is the chemical metabolite that lab technicians look for when screening for nicotine use.
The length of time that a drug remains in your body depends on the drug’s half-life, which is the amount of time it takes for 50 percent of the substance to leave your system. Mayo Medical Laboratories states that cotinine has a half-life of about 15 hours, while nicotine has a half-life of about two hours.
In general, nicotine stays in the body longer than LSD, Adderall and methamphetamine. Cotinine can be detected in various test samples, including urine, blood and saliva. But the time it remains detectable in each sample type varies.
Cotinine levels in urine begin to return to normal about seven to 10 days after you last smoked, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. If you smoke regularly, it may take up to three weeks for the cotinine to clear your system.
Testing urine samples for cotinine is the most widely used method of detection. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research, four to six times more cotinine can be found in urine than in blood or saliva.
Nicotine can appear in the bloodstream about an hour after inhalation. A 2017 article reviewed by the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois stated that cotinine can be detected in your blood for up to 10 days after you quit.
Although a blood test is an invasive procedure, measuring cotinine in blood is the most reliable way to detect nicotine use. It is also the preferred method for determining nicotine exposure among nonsmokers.
Cotinine can be traced in saliva for up to four days after last use, according to a report by Smith County, Texas.
Measuring cotinine in saliva is a noninvasive approach that is well-tolerated by patients. A 2011 study published in the journal Therapeutic Drug Monitoring stated that saliva tests minimize the risk for tampering.
Various drugs, including nicotine, can be found in your hair for up to 90 days after ingestion. Some tests can identify nicotine in your hair for up to a year after last exposure.
Testing for nicotine in hair is not as common as testing urine, saliva or blood. Hair examinations generally cost more. But hair tests have longer drug detection windows than tests of urine, blood or saliva.
Secondhand smoke is exposure to the smoke from someone else’s cigarette. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, inhaling secondhand smoke can lead to breathing problems, heart disease and a variety of cancers.
Cotinine can be traced in nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke. It can be detected in saliva, blood and urine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A 2012 study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine examined the prevalence of secondhand smoke exposure in nearly 500 children and infants in a city with a 12 percent smoking rate.
Using plasma testing, evidence of cotinine was detected in 55 percent of the children. Researchers also identified 70 children in the sample who experienced wheezing and possibly developed asthma caused by secondhand smoke.
People break down nicotine at different rates. The time it takes to clear the chemical and its metabolites from the body depends on many factors, including age, sex, diet, type of tobacco product used and history of nicotine use.
Some tobacco products introduce more nicotine into your system than others. For example, a 2003 study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research indicated that cigarette smokers had higher levels of nicotine and cotinine in their system than hookah and bidi smokers.
Regular smokers break down nicotine more slowly than nonsmokers because tobacco smoke may contain substances that slow down the metabolism of nicotine. Compared to nonsmokers or occasional smokers, it takes people with nicotine addiction longer to eliminate the chemical.
Food affects nicotine metabolism. A 2005 study published in the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics found that meals can decrease nicotine concentrations in tobacco users. In fact, 40 percent of nicotine clears from the body after a meal.
The older you are, the longer it can take for nicotine to leave your system. People 65 and older do not metabolize the chemical as quickly as younger people. Reduced blood flow in the liver might contribute to this slower metabolism of nicotine.
An American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics study indicated that the half-life of cotinine was shorter in women than in men, which suggests that it clears more quickly in women. Pregnancy also speeds up the elimination of nicotine from the body.
If you are addicted to nicotine, the drug may not clear from your system for many weeks. Smoking has a number of health, social and financial consequences, and it can lead to premature death. It is never too late to quit. If you’re ready to commit to a nicotine-free lifestyle, learn more about ways to quit smoking.
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