Nicotine & Juul, Explained

March 26, 2022

6 mins

Dane O'Leary


With so many other addictive drugs and substances, we often overlook tobacco products, nicotine, and products like Juul. However, nicotine remains a highly addictive and dangerous substance.

Often overlooked and underestimated, nicotine is a drug that is highly addictive and hard to quit. Use of nicotine began in the West when early settlers found the tobacco plant growing in the Americas shortly after arriving in the 1500s. Despite being just one of a number of plants containing nicotine, tobacco became a primary export for early Americans who would transport dried and shredded tobacco leaves back across the Atlantic to buyers in Europe. Then in 1604, King James of England put a large tax on tobacco because he didn’t think much good came from smoking it.

King James wasn’t wrong, but it didn’t matter because smoking tobacco was becoming a new fad. Even children were eager to get their hands on the stuff.

Today, we know that smoking tobacco is extremely bad for one's health, leading to lung problems, heart problems, and cancer. Research has shown that people who smoke tobacco for many years experience reduced quality of life as they get older. Some of the effects they experience include difficulty breathing, poor circulation, and an increased likelihood of contracting other illnesses. According to data, smoking tobacco lowers a person's life expectancy by more than 10 years and will contribute to the death of half of the people who don’t quit.

The Dangers of Nicotine

With cigarettes, most of the health risks are actually related to tobacco in general rather than being from the nicotine in tobacco products. However, nicotine isn’t perfectly safe.  In addition to being very addictive, nicotine is also poisonous. It’s impossible to inhale a fatal dose of nicotine through smoking tobacco.  But other nicotine products have made people sick and even killed children and pets.  The new e-cigarette and vape devices, like Juul, contribute to this danger.  The liquids used to vape have high doses of nicotine, much higher than natural tobacco.  Excessive vaping can lead to mild nicotine poisoning.  If someone accidentally drinks or spills the juice on their skin, serious nicotine poisoning is possible.

Vaping doesn't leave behind the telltale smell of smoke. In fact, vaping is meant to have a pleasing smell and taste.

Nicotine also poses a special danger to kids and teens because their brains are still developing. Nicotine affects the neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate important cerebral functions. Studies have shown that teens who abuse Juul or other vape devices have underdevelopment in certain areas of the brain. This can affect things like impulse control and attention span.

Furthermore, there’s evidence that nicotine is a gateway drug to both marijuana and cocaine. Data collected about human behavior shows this relationship.  In experiments, it was discovered that mice experience more intense effects from cocaine when they are given nicotine for a period of seven days preceding their exposure to the cocaine. There are also indications mice that were previously exposed to nicotine would display a more intense affinity for cocaine in the future. Because of these experiments, scientists have become immensely concerned that the use of nicotine, especially in high levels such as in the Juul, makes teens more likely to become addicted to more dangerous drugs later in life.

Nicotine & eCigarette Paraphernalia

These days, nicotine is available in many different forms. They’re all legal, but only for people over the age of 18. In fact, in April and May 2019, the US Congress introduced bills to raise the legal age to buy nicotine to 21. These bills are known as Tobacco 21 Laws. Soon Congress will vote on the bill to decide if the law will change. If it changes, only people 21 and older will be able to buy nicotine.

As stated above, most people have traditionally imbibed nicotine via smoking tobacco. The most common forms of tobacco were cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco. Smoking bans spread across the US starting in 2004. These bans helped smokeless nicotine products gain popularity. The first products were lozenges and dissolvable strips. Those were somewhat popular but lost market share to vape products.

The obvious indication that someone is abusing nicotine by vaping is the presence of paraphernalia like vape devices, e-cigarettes, and vape juice.

Vape products actually include any product that uses heat, not burning, to turn liquid nicotine into steam. Some vapes are heavy handheld devices, while others like e-cigarettes are small and lightweight. There are many styles of e-cigarettes, some of which are in the photo below.

There are also some less popular nicotine products. Examples include hookahs, Kreteks (cloves), nicotine patches, and chewing gum. People usually use the last two products to quit smoking. But all these products deliver the drug nicotine to the body.

Signs of Nicotine Abuse

Spotting nicotine abuse is harder now with the popularity of vaping since vape devices are small and relatively easy to hide. Most notably, vaping doesn’t leave the tell-tale smell of smoke on people’s hands and clothes as happens with traditional cigarettes. In fact, a lot of vape juices are made to have a pleasing smell and taste, which is why fruit- and dessert-type flavors like caramel and creme brûlée are commonplace among vape juice flavors.

The obvious indication that someone is abusing nicotine by vaping is the presence of necessary paraphernalia like vape devices, e-cigarettes, and juice products. However, the presence of juice products doesn't necessarily equate to nicotine use because there are forms of this juice that do not actually contain nicotine. On the label of any juice you find, you will find some sort of indication as to whether or not it contains nicotine. When present in the product, the nicotine level is typically listed in “mg” or “%" (e.g. 3 mg or 3%).

Most e-cigarettes, including Juul, use disposable pods that hold a small amount of juice. When these pods run out of juice, they're simply replaced rather than refilled. These pods usually come in boxes of 2 to 5 and will have their nicotine contents listed on the box.

Finding battery chargers can also mean someone is vaping. Most vape devices have rechargeable batteries that last about a day for those who vape regularly, meaning that these devices must be charged each night. Vape chargers usually have a USB connection on one end with a small opening on the other end where the vaping device can be connected. This connection can be magnetic or have threads for the vape to screw in.

Slang Terms Associated With Nicotine/Tobacco Use

  • Vape pen
  • Juul
  • e-cig or e-cigarette
  • Juice or e-juice
  • Dripping
  • Coil
  • Mod
  • Nic salt
  • Analog
  • Pod/pods
  • Julius Caesar
  • Rip/ripping

Treating Nicotine Abuse & Addiction

Currently, drug rehab centers don’t treat nicotine and Juul abuse specifically. Of course, most providers will discuss any type of nicotine abuse if someone who is in treatment (or wants to be in treatment) for other drugs also happens to use nicotine; however, nicotine abuse alone doesn’t require an inpatient treatment program.

Ongoing counseling with a certified therapist is helpful for those addicted to nicotine. Therapists can discuss topics such as caring for one’s health, stress management, and peer pressure when talking about nicotine usage.

Talking to one’s primary care physician (or PCP for short, meaning just your regular doctor) is also a great first step in addressing nicotine dependence. A doctor can help figure out which level of nicotine patches or nicotine gum would be most appropriate. Additionally, a physician can explain prescription medicines like Chantix, which is commonly prescribed to help people quit smoking.

Free Treatment Options

There are also some free programs available to help people quit nicotine, whether they're smoking cigarettes, vaping, or using some other form of nicotine. In most cases, doctors and counselors who specialize in nicotine addiction developed or contributed to these evidence-based programs.

  • SmokeFree
    This program is a US government program and has info to make a self-directed plan.  There’s also text support and mobile apps available along with many valuable resources.  The site includes information for unique situations such as teens, senior citizens, pregnant women, veterans, and people who prefer to speak Spanish.  There are also resources for people who already quit but want support.
  • This is Quitting
    Developed by Truth Initiative, this program caters to teens & young adults who want to quit vaping.  The program uses text support, mobile phone apps, and online resources.
  • Become an EX
    The Mayo Clinic helped develop this program.   It’s designed for people who want to quit tobacco of any form.  Research has shown that people who use the “Become an EX” program are 4 times more likely to quit successfully.

If you or someone you know is harming themselves with nicotine, cigarette, e-cigarette, or Juul abuse, it’s important to get help. While nicotine may not be considered highly dangerous, nicotine abuse can still harm a person and set them on a path for future health problems. Please check out some of the resources listed above if you are looking for help with nicotine and Juul abuse.

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