, Volume 88, Issue 1, pp 5-7,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 04 Oct 2013

How much nicotine kills a human? Tracing back the generally accepted lethal dose to dubious self-experiments in the nineteenth century

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The human toxicity of nicotine has become increasingly relevant in the past couple of years through marketing of new nicotine-containing products, such as smokeless tobacco and liquids for electronic nicotine delivery systems (electronic cigarettes) that are freely available in most countries. Standard textbooks, databases, and safety sheets consistently state that the lethal dose for adults is 60 mg or less (30–60 mg), leading to safety warnings that ingestion of five cigarettes or 10 ml of a dilute nicotine-containing solution could kill an adult. The 60-mg dose would correspond to an oral LD50 of around 0.8 mg/kg, a dose that is considerably smaller than the values determined for laboratory animals, which are ranging from 3.3 (mice) to more than 50 mg/kg (rats) (Hayes 1982).

Although an LD50 of 0.8 mg/kg would implicate that the toxicity of nicotine is similar to or even higher than that of cyanide, fatal nicotine intoxications are relatively rare, and there are countless records of