The advent of the latest pod vaping systems has been nothing short of a revolution for the vapers of the world – especially those who are new to vaping and are still trying to give cigarettes up for good. Pod vaping systems are special because they’ve evolved alongside nicotine salt e-liquid and are specifically designed to deliver the best possible performance with nicotine salt.
What exactly does that mean, though? As a new vaper, you’ve probably spent some time on vaping blogs looking for advice. You’ve most likely read that it’s usually best for new vapers to use nic salt – but what is salt nicotine? What makes nicotine salt vape juice the best choice for smokers who are trying to make the jump to vaping?
Reading this article, you’re going to get some straightforward answers to those questions. It’s time for a session of Vaping 101. What is nicotine salt?
What Is Salt Nicotine?
In its natural form within the tobacco plant, nicotine is a protonated salt. In other words, the nicotine molecule has an extra proton that binds it to a salt. Nicotine is not especially volatile in its salt form, which makes it difficult to achieve high yields in the extraction process. Therefore, tobacco processors that want to extract the nicotine – for e-liquid and for nicotine replacement products, for instance – typically use solvents to increase the extraction yields.
Ammonia is probably the most popular solvent used in nicotine extraction, but many high-pH solvents can be used for this process. Exposing tobacco to an alkaline solvent breaks the proton that binds the nicotine to the salt, and the result is a more volatile version of nicotine called freebase nicotine.
Freebase nicotine is the most common form of extracted nicotine. It’s used as a base for all e-liquids; even nicotine salt e-liquid actually starts with freebase nicotine. Freebase nicotine is also used for most over-the-counter nicotine replacement products. Nicotine salt e-liquid, meanwhile, is essentially just freebase nicotine vape juice with one small modification – no big deal, right?
As it turns out, though, the experience of using freebase nicotine vs. nicotine salt can be quite different indeed. First, let’s go into greater detail about the benefits and drawbacks of freebase nicotine. After that, we’ll talk about what salt nicotine e-liquid is and discuss its unique benefits.
Freebase Nicotine Has Benefits and Drawbacks
For the first several years in which vaping existed, freebase nicotine e-liquid was the only option available – and most vapers were completely happy with it. There were a few people, though, who found it difficult to commit fully to switching from smoking to vaping. Nicotine salt is for those people – and for everyone else, freebase nicotine e-liquid is still a good choice. Here are some of the benefits and drawbacks of freebase nicotine vape juice.
Freebase Nicotine Is More Bioavailable than Nicotine Salt
Comparing freebase nicotine vs. nicotine salt, freebase nicotine is actually the more bioavailable of the two forms. That’s because freebase nicotine is more volatile and is, therefore, more likely to travel in the air as vapor when it’s heated. If you have a freebase nicotine e-liquid and a nicotine salt e-liquid – and both have the same nicotine strength – the freebase e-liquid will be the more satisfying of the two.
Freebase Nicotine Delivers a Strong Throat Hit at High Nicotine Strengths
One of the distinct features of freebase nicotine is that, because it is somewhat alkaline, it delivers a fairly strong throat hit in e-liquids with high nicotine strengths. The throat hit of freebase nicotine e-liquid is both its biggest benefit and its biggest drawback. At high nicotine strengths, you’ll find that freebase nicotine e-liquid delivers a very scratchy, assertive throat hit that’s a bit reminiscent of cigarette smoke. The drawback of such a strong throat hit, though, is that some people find it unpleasant – and that’s one of the reasons why nicotine salt e-liquid exists. We’ll discuss that at greater length in a moment.
Freebase Nicotine Delivers Bold Flavors at Low Nicotine Strengths
Although freebase nicotine e-liquid delivers a powerful throat hit at high nicotine strengths, it really shines at low strengths in a sub-ohm vaping setup. Today’s high-end vape tanks are capable of producing enormous clouds. Modern vape tanks produce so much vapor, in fact, that people generally only use them with the lowest-nicotine e-liquids available.
The most common nicotine strength that people use with today’s sub-ohm vape tanks is 3 mg/ml – and at that strength, freebase nicotine e-liquid absolutely shines. It delivers bold, pure flavors with almost no throat hit, but it’s still completely satisfying because of the high bioavailability of the nicotine.
What Is Nicotine Salt E-Liquid?
So far, you’ve learned from reading this article that virtually all nicotine extraction is performed in the presence of an alkaline solvent. Raising the pH of the nicotine breaks the proton bond, freeing the nicotine molecule from the salt and releasing it as a free base. You’ve also learned that freebase nicotine is the basis of all vape juice – even nicotine salt e-liquid. So, how do e-liquid companies change freebase nicotine back to a salt? The answer is surprisingly simple: They add an acid to lower the pH of the nicotine.
Nicotine salt e-liquid is essentially the same as standard freebase nicotine e-liquid. The only difference is that nicotine salt e-liquid also contains a mild food-grade acid such as benzoic acid. A little acid is all that’s necessary to reverse the chemical transformation and change the nicotine back into a salt.
What Is the Benefit of Salt Nicotine Vape Juice?
So far, this article has touched on one of the biggest benefits of freebase nicotine, which is that it’s more bioavailable – and thus more satisfying at a given nicotine strength – than nicotine salt. We’ve also discussed the one major shortcoming of freebase nicotine e-liquid, though, which is that some people find the very strong throat hit overwhelming and unpleasant at high nicotine strengths.
The problems with freebase nicotine e-liquid are most evident with the smallest vaping devices. With a very small e-cigarette, you’d need an e-liquid with a nicotine strength of around 50 mg/ml in order to get as much nicotine per puff as you’d get from smoking a cigarette. However, it’s almost impossible to achieve strengths that high with freebase nicotine because the throat hit is too extreme. With freebase e-liquid, most people can only tolerate nicotine strengths up to about 18 mg/ml.
The reason why freebase nicotine e-liquid is so irritating to use at high strengths is because of the alkalinity of the nicotine – and that’s the problem nicotine salt e-liquid fixes. Because nicotine salt has a more neutral pH, it doesn’t cause the throat irritation that freebase nicotine e-liquid does at high strengths. With nicotine salt e-liquid, it’s possible to have a vape juice with a nicotine strength of 50 mg/ml or higher – roughly the same nicotine delivery as a cigarette – that’s still completely smooth and enjoyable to use.
Nicotine salt e-liquid is perfect for most new vapers because it delivers a very cigarette-like vaping experience and makes it easy for people to switch from smoking to vaping. In markets that don’t restrict the nicotine strengths of e-liquid, nicotine salt vape juice is available in very high strengths that freebase nicotine can’t match.
Although freebase nicotine is more bioavailable than nicotine salt, the fact that nicotine salt e-liquid is available in higher nicotine strengths overcomes that difference. Regardless of the nicotine type, an e-liquid with higher strength will always be more satisfying than a lower-strength e-liquid.
How to Identify the Best Vapes for Nicotine Salt
If you’re thinking of trying nicotine salt e-liquid, you need to have the right vaping device for the job. Fortunately, we’ve devoted an entire article here at Innokin to discussing the best salt nic vapes – so head over to that article to read some useful pointers.
There’s an extremely wide variety of vaping devices on the market today, but not all of them are appropriate for nicotine salt due to the extremely high nicotine strengths that salt nic vape juice often has. A powerful sub-ohm vape mod isn’t the right choice for an e-liquid with a nicotine strength of 50 mg/ml because you’ll end up absorbing far too much nicotine. You won’t enjoy your vaping experience at all, and you may even feel ill.
If you’re interested in trying a high-strength nicotine salt e-liquid, you need a vaping device designed for the mouth-to-lung (MTL) inhaling style. MTL vapes generate relatively small vapor clouds, and that’s exactly what you need when you use an e-liquid that’s high in nicotine.
Here at Innokin, we clearly identify the intended inhaling styles of our devices to help prevent confusion. If you’re not sure whether a particular Innokin device is right for nicotine salt, simply read the product description to find out. In general, you’ll find that a mouth-to-lung device tends to have a narrow mouthpiece and small airflow vents. A device with a wide mouthpiece and large airflow vents, on the other hand, usually isn’t right for high-strength nicotine salt e-liquids.