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I'm reading a couple of methods of extracting nicotine from tobacco. I have read that many people trying to commit suicide with nicotine. The method is simple:

  • Boil some tobacco with water
  • Leave it for a few hours
  • filter the solution
  • boil it till you get a thick black syrup thing

That's pure nicotine and they claim that 2-3 drops of that can kill you. Is that true? What do you think?

I am not thinking to commit suicide. I just asking because it is really weird that so little a dose can be fatal.

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  • $\begingroup$ For any chemical the $\ce{LD_{50}}$ is the lethal dose. It is usually per kg of body weight for humans. Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicotine#Overdose lists that the fatal dose is 0.5–1.0 mg/kg for humans. $\endgroup$ – MaxW Nov 4 '15 at 6:02
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    $\begingroup$ A non-polar solvent alkaloid extraction would produce a much purer nicotine product. The water extraction will contain a lot of impurities . Dichloromethane would be a choice non-polar solvent for this. $\endgroup$ – Technetium Nov 4 '15 at 6:02
  • $\begingroup$ Nicotine solutions are sold over the counter for vaping with "electronic" cigarettes. Seems that intake matters. Ingesting it isn't the same as inhaling it. $\endgroup$ – MaxW Nov 4 '15 at 6:04
  • $\begingroup$ @MaxW Do the solutions sold over the counter have as much nicotine as eating pure stuff would? $\endgroup$ – Jan Nov 4 '15 at 9:46
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    $\begingroup$ What is weird about this level of toxicity (2-3 drops/person)? $\endgroup$ – Greg Nov 5 '15 at 2:35
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MaxW's comment linked to the relevant Wikipedia page:

Nicotine is regarded as a potentially lethal poison.[17] The LD50 of nicotine is 50 mg/kg for rats and 3 mg/kg for mice. 30–60 mg (0.5–1.0 mg/kg) can be a lethal dosage for adult humans.[11][56] However the widely used human LD50 estimate of 0.5–1.0 mg/kg was questioned in a 2013 review, in light of several documented cases of humans surviving much higher doses; the 2013 review suggests that the lower limit causing fatal outcomes is 500–1000 mg of ingested nicotine, corresponding to 6.5–13 mg/kg orally.[13] Nevertheless, nicotine has a relatively high toxicity in comparison to many other alkaloids such as caffeine, which has an LD50of 127 mg/kg when administered to mice.[57]

You ask:

That's pure nicotine and they claim that 2-3 drops of that can kill you. Is that true?

"Drops" is an imprecise non-quantitative term, but let's suppose that a drop is about 20 μL in volume. Then 3 drops is 60 μL or 0.06 mL. The density of the nicotine "oil", if pure, is about the same as water's. So 60 μL should equal about 60 mg of nicotine. According to the paragraph from Wikipedia, this corresponds to a widely used figure for a lethal dose.

However, note the text later in the paragraph that a lethal dose is closer to 500-1000 mg. That would require ten to twenty drops, not just two or three.

Undoubtedly what is a "lethal" dose varies widely from person to person and I have no doubt that consuming 40 or 60 mg of nicotine at a time is very dangerous. That's the same amount of nicotine as smoking 50-70 cigarettes or chewing ten to fifteen pieces of nicotine gum at the same time. That can't be good for you.

Boil some tobacco with water

The word you haven't thought about is "some". According to a different Wikipedia page:

It constitutes approximately 0.6–3.0% of the dry weight of tobacco[6]

Since plants are probably 70% water, that means that nicotine is roughly 0.2% to 1% of the wet weight of tobacco leaves. So to obtain three drops of pure nicotine (approximately 60 mg), we would need at a minimum 6 g of tobacco. That isn't very much! But keep in mind this calculation doesn't allow for any losses during extraction, and also I'm not sure if the Wikipedia figure for the nicotine content of tobacco refers to "fermented" leaves or to freshly harvested leaf tissue. So for a variety of reasons this calculation could be way off.

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  • $\begingroup$ You missed the point that ingesting nicotine is very different than inhaling it like vaping with an "electronic" cigarette. Vaping would be close to injecting it since the lungs don't have digestive juices to break down "food." $\endgroup$ – MaxW Nov 5 '15 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ Feel free to add your own answer MaxW. I'd appreciate it if you could provide links to back up your assertions. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – Curt F. Nov 5 '15 at 17:07

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