If you are new to vaping, it is likely that you will be overwhelmed by the amount of different devices and e-liquids to choose from, and even from the various different vaping styles you can choose to implement.
Whilst knowledge of these different facets of vaping comes with time (and a glance at our handy ‘News’ blog section!) understanding the different types of nicotine that you will be consuming is key to ensuring that your vaping stays a positive one.
As we are sure that you will come into contact with them on your vaping journey, this blog will highlight the key differences between the main two types of nicotine in e-liquid: freebase nicotine and nic salts.
But first thing’s first…
What exactly is nicotine?
Nicotine is an alkaloid found in the nightshade family of plants. Nicotine acts as a stimulant in humans and other mammals, where it activates nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) to produce effects such as: increases in heart rate, adrenaline release, and higher blood pressure. These nicotine receptor activation effects are responsible for nicotine's addictive properties.
People enjoy nicotine because it has stimulant effects. Nicotine increases heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenaline release. These effects can make people feel more alert and energetic. Nicotine also has positive effects on cognition and memory, which is why nicotine is sometimes used as a cognitive enhancer.
What is freebase nicotine?
One problem is that nicotine is hard for the body to absorb in its natural form. Its chemical make-up is a weak base which wants protons (positively charged particles) to become ionised, but ions struggle to move through the cell membranes in our body. This means that with nicotine in its natural form, it's hard for the nicotine to reach our body's nicotine receptors.
This all changed in the 1960s when research fronted by Phillip Morris of the Marlboro company found a way to make the nicotine more easily absorbed by the body by 'freebasing' it.
The process of freebasing adds ammonia to the nicotine which increases the alkalinity, removing the protons, and changes the substance from a salt to a more alkaline base. This results in nicotine in a purer form which is more easily absorbed by the body and therefore provides a stronger nicotine rush.
Freebase nicotine became common in tobacco cigarettes. When e-liquids first entered the market, these were also made with this stronger and more potent freebase nicotine.
How does freebase nicotine impact the vaping experience?
E-liquids that use nicotine in a freebase form are alkaline, which means that they provide a harsher throat hit when you vape. This is enjoyed by some vapers who like the sensation which is similar to the throat hit of smoking a traditional cigarette.
However, other vapers find this uncomfortable on the throat, which leads to them vaping less frequently or reducing the nicotine strength in their e-liquid. While this can be a good way to lower your nicotine intake, some people using vaping to quit smoking may find that they cannot satisfy their nicotine cravings this way and may be tempted to return to cigarettes.
Which freebase nicotine e-liquids should I try?
If you're interested in giving freebase vape juice a go, you have two options: freebase nicotine e-liquid or nicotine-free shortfills with a nic shot.
Freebase nicotine containing e-liquid
One way to enjoy an e-liquid with freebase is by trying one of the 10ml bottles of the amazing flavours from Vampire Vape such as Heisenberg Orange or Strawberry Burst. Browse our range of 10ml freebase bottles here.
E-liquid shortfills and nic shots
The other way to enjoy freebase nicotine is by choosing an e-liquid shortfill of your choice and combining it with a freebase nicotine shot. Shortfills are naturally nicotine-free bottles of vape juice with space at the top to add your nicotine shot(s). Nicotine shots are 10ml bottles of flavourless nicotine-containing e-liquid that are designed to be mixed with shortfills.
We have a wide range of shortfills available at Vaping 101, from the rich flavours of the Riot Squad Black Edition shortfills, the sweet and delicious Pacha Mama Desserts e-juice, and the vibrant taste of Dinner Lady Moments shortfills to the beverage-inspired Seriously Soda range from Doozy Vape. No matter your vaping preferences, there's a vape juice for everyone!
With a higher VG percentage, vapers tend to opt for shortfills with or without a freebase nic shot for use with their sub-ohm vapes, enjoying the big cloud production these e-liquids provide. If you're planning on sub-ohm vaping, we recommend choosing a lower nicotine level to avoid accidentally consuming too much!
Now that we've looked in detail at freebase nicotine and its uses, let's introduce an alternative form of nicotine: nic salt.
What is nicotine salt?
To be clear, nicotine salt can refer to two things:
- The natural form of nicotine as it is found in the tobacco plant is called a nicotine salt because it has the chemical composition of a salt
- An e-liquid containing nicotine in this natural form is also referred to as a nicotine salt
Nicotine salt e-liquids, also referred to as nic salts, salt nic, or sometimes just salts, are a relatively new form of vape juice that has quickly become extremely popular among vapers. These use a different formulation of nicotine to freebase nicotine.
The nicotine found in the tobacco leaves is chemically considered a salt - it is made up of a chemical reaction that has a positive charge (acid) and a negative charge (base). As we explained earlier, the weak base seeks out protons to become ionised, which means it is hard for our bodies to absorb. So, to make the nic salts better for vaping, an acid such as benzoic acid or citric acid is added. This lowers the pH level and changes the chemical structure so that our bodies can absorb it more easily.
How do nic salts impact the vaping experience?
There are a few key benefits of vaping nic salts that have caused them to become extremely popular with vapers. Firstly, nic salts provide a smoother throat hit thanks to their lowered pH level. This allows people to vape more frequently and at higher nicotine strengths without significant discomfort, unlike freebase nicotine.
Secondly, nic salts are absorbed faster into the bloodstream than freebase vape juice. Many nicotine salts can be absorbed by the body in as little as 6 seconds, allowing vapers to enjoy the nicotine rush without delay. This is ideal for ex-smokers who need to quickly satisfy those cravings with a powerful nicotine hit.
Finally, the changed chemical structure of nicotine salts makes these e-juices suitable for vaping at lower temperatures. This makes them suitable for use in low-powered pod kits, vape pens, and disposable vapes with smaller and less powerful batteries. Nic salts are the e-liquid of choice for many Mouth-To-Lung (MTL) vaping lovers as a result.
Which nic salts should I try?
We have a massive range of nicotine salts available at Vaping 101 for you to sample and enjoy. One of the great things about nicotine salts is that because they are required to come in 10ml bottles by the TPD directive regulations in the UK and EU they are super cheap and it's easy to try lots of different flavours.
Or, if you prefer a dessert or candy flavour sample the Holy Cow nic salts or the Donut King nic salts.
Classic flavour lovers may prefer the tobacco flavours of Just Juice Tobacco Club or the menthol breeze from Yeti nicotine salts.
Now that we've looked in detail at the differences between nic salts and freebase e-liquid, here's a summary:
|Strong and harsher
|Smooth and weaker
|Best used with
|More powerful devices such as sub-ohm vape kits
|Low-powered pod kits and vape pens
|Around 2 years
|Slightly longer shelf life due to slower oxidation
|MTL or DTL
|More complex flavours
|Less complex flavours
|Can provide larger clouds when there's a high VG ratio
|Limited cloud production
And, keep in mind that there's no one correct way to vape. If you want to use both forms of nicotine, there's nothing wrong with that!