Nicotine Poisoning: Nature’s Muscle Relaxer

nicotine header

Saturday night while channel surfing, my partner-in-crime and I settled on ‘Untold Stories of the E.R.” on the Discovery Channel.  This particular episode was striking because it was a parent’s worst nightmare:

The one where your child’s birthday party lands almost everyone at the party in the emergency room near death.

With very limited information, as anyone that was admitted didn’t have any real explanation as to what might have caused this, the ER physician was stumped.

Everyone was throwing up, ill, looking near death.

The birthday boy started experiencing asthma attacks.

The physician sent the father, who was unable to attend the party, back home to see what he can find. Instead of bringing something useful, he hiney was rushed back to the hospital in an ambulance to and for immediate admittance.

What is going on here?

The only piece of information she kept hearing was everyone’s raving about Grandma’s infamous ‘stew’.  With some quick thinking from the physician, she asked the paramedic to return to the home and bring the concoction that they kept referencing and the trash bin to see if she can pinpoint a cause.

Once the paramedics returned with the goods they poke around and she notices a suspicious leaf in the trash bin.

nicotine poisoning tobacco leaf

After confirming with Poison Control, it turned out to be wild tobacco which led to her diagnosis of:

nicotine poisoning.

Here’s a clip of the show, pardon the poor quality.

I always enjoy the acting. Amusing.

According to the Center for Poison Control and Prevention, nicotine poisoning symptoms include [6]:

EFFECTS OF SHORT-TERM (LESS THAN 8-HOURS) EXPOSURE: At low concentrations, nicotine causes tremor and increases in heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and level of alertness. More severe exposures cause muscle fasciculations (involuntary twitching), seizures, and abnormal heart rhythms; these effects are followed by multi-system organ depression including slow heart rate (bradycardia), low blood pressure (hypotension), and paralysis of the muscles that control breathing. Vomiting occurs in more then 50% of symptomatic patient/victims. Death may occur, and is typically due to paralysis of the muscles that control breathing, a build-up of fluid in the airways (bronchorrhea), and failure of the heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular collapse).

Here’s where it caught my attention:

Nicotine poisoning can be accompanied by neuromuscular weakness and/or paralysis.

We have all heard of the negative side effects of nicotine, like: cancer, loss of lung function, heart attacks/strokes, death.

The usual… but I didn’t realize poisoning can lead to paralysis of the muscles.

According to the episode, nicotine starts as a stimulant EXCEPT when ingested in which it quickly becomes a neuromusclular inhibitor that can lead to paralysis. 

Losing the capacity to control your muscles is kind of a BIG, scary ordeal.  We’ll go over how it does this but first, let’s start with an overview of the subject matter.

.:What is nicotine?:.

Nicotine is a naturally occurring toxic chemical found in tobacco plants.  It is named after the tobacco plant Nicotiana tabacum, which is named after the French ambassador in Portugal, Jean Nicot de Villemain.  He sent tobacco and seeds to the French King in Paris in 1560 for medicinal use since it was believed to protect against illnesses, particularly the plague [7].

Historically, it was used in the United States as an insecticide and fungicide. Nicotine is prohibited as a pesticide for organic farming in the United States and the EPA no longer registers nicotine pesticides.  Its decline in use was also due to there being cheaper, less harmful pesticides on the market since nicotine pesticides were potent due to their effects on the nervous system of mammals.

.:Nicotine in the Brain:.

Nicotine is an imposter that resembles the chemical structure of a neurotransmitter chemical called Acetylcholine. Acetylcholine functions as a neuromodulator in both the peripheral nervous system and central nervous system.  It activates muscles and is the major neurotransmitter in the autonomic nervous system (you know the system responsible for the automation of processes we’re not fully aware of such as our heart beat, digestion, and breathing among other critical things).

While it acts like a neurotransmitter, it isn’t, and it bypasses all sensory centers thereby directly releasing neurotransmitters which produces instant gratification.  It elicits the release of other neurotransmitters (like Dopamine) in the brain that affect mood, appetite, and memory while speeding up respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

Nicotine is an agonist (“binds and activates”) at the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors,  which are present in the central and autonomic nervous system and the neuromuscular junction.

These receptors are not only located in the brain, but in the muscles, adrenal glands, heart, and other peripheral nervous systems.  These receptors are responsible for a great deal of our bodily functions like muscle movement, breathing, and learning and memory.

This is why paralysis occurs, since nicotine acts like acetycholine it binds and activates its receptors, which control a vast array of muscles in our bodies, but in high doses instead of stimulating it inhibits preventing movement. 

.:Nicotine Toxicity:.

Nicotine poisoning is caused by excessive stimulation of nicotinic cholinergic (the primary component of acetycholine) neurons. Low doses of nicotine stimulates these receptors however, large doses produce an inhibitory effect leading to neuromuscular blocking [5].

Nicotine poisoning can affect the nervous system and heart in two phases: the early phase which involves stimulation/excitation that can occur within 15 minutes to one hour of exposure, and the late phase which produces inhibition/depression that can occur within 30 minutes to four hours of exposure [6].

Lethal doses have been it projected to be at 500 to 1000 mg, with about 0.5-1 mg/kg for adults and 0.1 mg/kg for children.  Nicotine has a half life of 6-8 hours and reaches the brain in less than eight seconds after entering the bloodstream [4].

Thinking of growing your own stuff?


In the show, the grandmother picked the leaves herself and added them to the stew.

Bad call grandma!

Smoking ‘natural’ tobacco exposes you to the most deadly carcinogens, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, such as benzene since there is a lack of filter.  Homegrown tobacco, particularly when burned, has more than 40 carcinogens that are more harmful than the additives in cigarettes themselves [3].

Harvesting these plants yourself poses great danger as the nicotine you absorb is actually a deadly pesticide.

[… Refer to earlier statement of it being used as a pesticide..]

Direct exposure to wet tobacco leaves can cause Green Tobacco Sickness (GTS), a type of nicotine poisoning caused by skin exposure to wet tobacco leaves [3].  When the leaves of tobacco plants are wet they excrete nicotine, which allows for for direct absorption of the skin and easier entry to the bloodstream. Symptoms include dizziness, vomiting, difficulty breathing and heart rate fluctuations.  Essentially, it can make you feel like you’re going to die.

nicotine poisoning side effects

None of this sounds awesome to me.  Granted, the grandmother was unaware that she was poisoning her family and friends with tobacco leaves.  Which brings me to three important realizations:

1) If I wasn’t already aware, If I’m not 100 on what it is, it is preferable to leave it be.

2) Most importantly, don’t add it into food I intend to serve others.

3) I need to start learning to identify poisonous leaves.

The third one is particularly important since you never know when you MAY want to engage in number two for someone extra special and pretend you overlooked number one.

nicotine poisoning salts

 Enjoy your weekend everyone! 😉

Did you know about the effects of nicotine poisoning on the brain? Are you a smoker?

Sources: Image Header1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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  • Roaen
    July 17, 2015 at 11:36 AM

    umm holy crap that’s scary… also you changed your blog name too! 🙂 i’ll be back in DC in a month!

    • AwesomelyOZ
      July 22, 2015 at 8:16 AM

      Yes it is!! So amusing – it was a great episode. Yes I did! 🙂 Yay!!! If you’re able and willing, I’d love to get together! 🙂 Glad you’re coming home! Take Care Roaen -Iva

  • Angela Gilmore
    July 17, 2015 at 11:05 PM

    SALTS! Yes! There are so many times when that is completely accurate. One time in college I was instant messaging with a classmate and she wrote LOL, I looked right at her and she certainly was not LOLing!

    And damn! Nicotine is some nasty stuff AND why is grandma randomly adding leaves to her stew, that seriously creeps me out! I am super paranoid about plants, and I agree, if you aren’t 100% sure leave it be. My grandmother used to live in the Bronx and she would pick the dandelion leaves in the park to eat. I get it, but it creeped me out. I walk my dogs in the park…

    • AwesomelyOZ
      July 22, 2015 at 8:44 AM

      LOL At an old job of mine, that was the go-to saying of the day. 🙂 Ha! I do that all the time- expressions indeed. I do that at work – an indication that internally, I’m laughing.

      I think the grandma saw it in nature and “assumed” it was OK because why would there be something poisonous right? Anywhoo bet she learned her lesson! I am paranoid indeed – if I am not 100, I leave it alone. Dandelions? LOL That’s hilarious – wonder why dandelions? My mother sits out in the sun thinking she’s soaking up Vitamin D, I’m too tired to correct her – she’s as stubborn as I am. 🙂 Don’t let your dogs eat random things in the park! 🙂 Hope you’re recovering well momma! Take Care Angela -Iva

  • Jen
    July 18, 2015 at 8:45 AM

    Dude – wow. I had no idea tobacco leaves were so…um…deadly. Call me stupid but I honestly thought the cigarette was worse than the plant. So glad I stand corrected! I am terrified of foraging the wrong things into my diet so I’ve been big on wild herb and weed websites lately. They help me figure out which plants are good to eat (and I just leave everything else alone haha!).

    Now I’m not traditionally a smoker, but I definitely love the feeling I get when I randomly have one (typically a menthol, typically a Newport if I can help it, because, baller). I hate the feeling I get after, though. i have a super sensitive throat so it’s easily irritated. It kinda prevents me from doing any serious smoking of anything. Sometimes that makes me real sad….and then sometimes, like today when I read you post, it makes me grateful 🙂

    • AwesomelyOZ
      July 22, 2015 at 10:04 AM

      Lol basically – just steer clear from tobacco. 😛 I need to get these sites from you because I ain’t trying to find myself in a situation where the wrong thing ends up in my mouth! 😛

      It’s ok I love Hookah once or twice a year.. It’s just something that is a social activity to do with friends every once in a blue moon but boy do my lungs hate me the day after O_O. Hey better to steer clear of it! Cigs are bad mmkay! Hope you’re having a great one lovely! Talk Soon -Iva

  • GiGi Eats
    July 20, 2015 at 9:25 AM

    Smoking is probably one of the most disgusting habits on the face of the planet in my opinion, and it’s so odd to me too because EVERYWHERE you go = SMOKING KILLS is plastered, but people who do it, just do not care AT ALL! I get that it’s an addiction, but COMMON!

    • AwesomelyOZ
      July 22, 2015 at 10:06 AM

      Yes it is, thankfully I hate cigarettes but I do smoke hookah once a year and I try to keep it that way. Lol. Yeah my sister is the best example of someone who smoke is killing her and she refuses to stop.. It’s a very devastating and sad thing to watch but we’ve all tried to help her stop. Nothing. Hope you’re enjoying your trip to Taiwan chickie!!! Take Care lovely -Iva

  • Charlotte
    July 20, 2015 at 11:26 AM

    Oy, this is scary. I knew about some of the more obvious effects of smoking but not not the effects on the brain. I have been a smoker in the past, and am very glad that I gave up this gross habit, but it’s a heck of a difficult habit to break. That said, reading things like this is always very eye-opening to me.

    Also that show is so great with all its awful reenactments 🙂

    • AwesomelyOZ
      July 22, 2015 at 10:08 AM

      Yes, it is scary indeed!! I had no clue it had THAT kind of effect on the brain and that’s really good to know. Yes, I know it is a difficult habit to break since my sisters and their partners were all smokers and it was very difficult, for those who did quit, to give it up. 🙁 Glad you gave that habit up lovely!! LOL I love the awful reenactments omg, it’s just priceless!! I especially love that lame banter that occurs among staff members like they’re really “cool” like that – jeez stop it! Have a great one Charlotte! Talk Soon -Iva

  • Melanie
    July 20, 2015 at 11:55 AM

    Yikes! That is so scary!
    Melanie @

    • AwesomelyOZ
      July 22, 2015 at 10:09 AM

      Yes it is very scary indeed! Steer clear form tobacco leaves 😛 Have a great one Melanie! -Iva

  • Tamara
    July 20, 2015 at 3:52 PM

    Ha to SALTS!
    Oh man – this is too much. I love the acting. I don’t know anything about nicotine and I certainly don’t smoke. My brother-in-law “vapes” and claims it’s not unhealthy at all.

    • AwesomelyOZ
      July 22, 2015 at 10:11 AM

      Haha love that saying 🙂 It’s great to randomly throw it into conversations. LOL The acting is just.. so amusing. I will definitely watch it again JUST for their horrid acting. By “vapes” do you mean the e-cigarettes that are all the craze now? Because, if so, he’s not clear of the negative side effects of smoking. Also, definitely keep away from children as there has been an incredible increase in tobacco poisoning in CHILDREN because of those. Just an FYI. Have a great one lovely! -Iva

  • Dean
    July 21, 2015 at 9:03 AM

    Holy sh*t!! This is crazy, poor grandma.
    I wouldn’t have known what a wild tobacco leaf looks like, she probably thought she had basil. Scary.
    Have you ever watched Into the Wild? That movie has me double checking berries.
    Gotta love the acting on TLC 😀 (I think I may have a chance 😉 )

    • AwesomelyOZ
      July 22, 2015 at 10:13 AM

      Lol poor grandma? Poor kids! I’m sure she won’t be picking up random stuff from her garden/backyard again. The leaves are actually pretty large, although difficult to see from that image, so she should have known it was not basil. Haha. I have watched it a while ago LOL! I do vividly remember that berry scene though HAHA love it! Yes, I do appreciate the horrible acting on TLC and hope that doesn’t improve any time soon. I have no doubt you have a better chance. 😛 Have a great one and thanks for stopping by Dean! Take Care -Iva

      • Damian
        March 6, 2017 at 11:16 AM


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