Physiological and toxicological properties of Nicotiana tabacum

in StemSocial3 months ago

The purpose of this paper is to share academic scientific content on the general botanical characteristics, pharmacokinetic action, pharmacological effects, psychoactive effects, consumption and legal aspects of the psychoactive species Nicotiana tabacum (Tobacco). As in the previous deliveries, this manuscript has been schematized under the premise of socializing ethnobotanical information of relevance, and both experimental and clinical reports of the plant material under study.


According to statistical data reported by FAO, Nicotiana tabacum (Tobacco) as an item of agricultural utility occupies the largest area of cultivated area on a global scale, however, the yields of this vegetative material do not prescribe food purposes, this because its production is intended primarily for the phytopharmacological sector, and tobacco industry, who have technological packages for the use of the main phytometabolite present in the leaf blades of tobacco specimens, such as nicotine [1].

Although the production of Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco) does not prescribe food purposes, from the commercial point of view, its agricultural management is highly technical [2], essentially because, as the leaf blades (leaves) are the vengeful segment of commercial value, producers avoid that these organographic segments are attacked by insects and pathogenic microorganisms, in order to avoid losses of organoleptic nature (smell and taste), the main attributes of commercial value of the tobacco industry.

Now, based on relevant ethnobotanical information, experimental and clinical reports on the addictive effects of nicotine, the objective of this post is to socialize botanical aspects related to the pharmacokinetic action, pharmacological and psychoactive effects of the species Nicotiana tabacum (Tobacco).

General characteristics

Taxonomy and distribution

Nicotiana tabacum, is a plant species of herbaceous biotype and essentially annual growth, artificially placed in the Division: Magnoliophyta, Class: Magnoliopsida, Order: Solanales, Family: Solanaceae..., Genus: Nicotiana and Species: tabacum, of South American origin specifically from the Andean eco-region of Peru and Ecuador, with distribution essentially in habitats preponderantly of tropical climates.

Common names

The wild and commercial materials of Nicotiana tabacum, are vernacularly identified as Tobacco, however, in the last two decades the designation "nicotiana grass" has become a common descriptor.

Vegetative and reproductive morphology

The specimens of Nicotiana tabacum, are characterized by exhibiting morphological profiles, namely, erect, semi-woody, pubescent, and little branched stems, simple and pubescent leaf blades, sessile insertion, alternate phyllotaxy, penninervate nervation, entire margin, acuminate apex, and blade of variable aspect between heart-shaped, lanceolate, oblong-lanceolate, and oval, with flowers of polychromatic coloration, actinomorphic symmetry, and hermaphrodite reproductive system, capsule type fruits, bilobed, and reciform seeds, of elliptic morphology and brown coloration [3].

Fig. 2 Leaf blades of Nicotiana tabacum (Tobacco) seedlings. Public domain image, Author: Stefan L, 2016 CC BY-SA 4.0 Remark: The photograph was edited by user @lupafilotaxia, by size adjustments and text incorporation.

Edafo-climatology of Tobacco cultivation

Commercial specimens of Nicotiana tabacum (Tobacco), tend to express their maximum agricultural potential at temperatures between 18 and 28°C, relative humidity oscillating around 70%, in relation to water requirements even though, these plant materials are resistant to prolonged periods of drought, however, for the vegetative segments (leaf blades) to express their maximum potential, it is necessary to execute moderate irrigation practices, this in order to ensure between 500 to 1. As for the type of soil, commercial specimens of Nicotiana tabacum grow well in soils with a loam/sandy texture, good drainage, high organic matter content and acid pH between 5.2 and 6.2 [3].

Fig. 3 Reproductive structures of Nicotiana tabacum (Tobacco). Public domain image, Author: Stefan L, 2016 CC BY-SA 4.0 Remark: The photograph was edited by user @lupafilotaxia, by size adjustments and text incorporation.

Pharmacokinetic action

Nicotine main phytometabolite of tobacco

Nicotine, is an alkaloid of psychoactive action derived from the foliar laminae (leaves) of Nicotiana tabacum, however, other types of phytometabolites present in tobacco leaves have also been reported, among these; 2-(3' Pyridyl-pyridine), Anabasine, Anatabine, Methyl-anatabine, Nicotirine, Nornicotine, all of psychoactive and toxicological importance [1], mainly because of the chemical capacity they exhibit to induce addictive behaviors, basically because these phytometabolites generate serious functional alterations in most of the biological systems of the organism [4].

Fig. 4 Harvest of leaf blades of Nicotiana tabacum (Tobacco). Public domain image, Author: Own W, 2010 CC BY-SA 4.0 Remark: The photograph was edited by user @lupafilotaxia, by size adjustments and text incorporation.

Pharmacokinetics of Nicotina

After combustion, of the dried pieces of the leaf blades (leaves) of Nicotiana tabacum previously wrapped in cigarettes, and upon subsequent inhalation, the pharmacokinetic pathway of nicotine is as follows; A. absorption by biological membranes of the nasal mucosa, mouth, and skin, B. movement by diffusion to airways, pulmonary alveoli, and bloodstream, C. uptake at the central nervous system (CNS) level, D. binding to nicotinic cholinergic receptors (nAChR), and E. excretion by the renal system, however, it is important to note that, even though in experimental and clinical trials it has been reported that the pharmacokinetic action of nicotine before being expelled from the body is considerably fast, this action triggers a psychoactive response, which activates the need to consume nicotine again, thus decreasing its elimination rate, and thus generating a series of adverse effects such as anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and concentration problems [5].

Fig. 5 Dried leaf blades of Nicotiana tabacum (Tobacco). Public domain image, Author: Own W, 2018 CC BY-SA 4.0 Remark: The photograph was edited by user @lupafilotaxia, by size adjustments and text incorporation.

Addictive effects of nicotina

Routes of nicotine consumption

After inhalation of the smoke generated by burning dried pieces of Nicotiana tabacum leaves, this phytometabolite usually produces changes in neuronal activity in various regions of the brain, generating neurobiochemical effects that trigger the activation of mesolimbic and dopaminergic brain systems, which immediately produces increases in dopamine levels, and thus states of motor stimulation in certain regions of the body [5].

Fig. 6 Cigarette made from pieces of dried leaves of Nicotiana tabacum (Tobacco). Public domain image, Author: Alexa, 2015 Remark: The photograph was edited by user @lupafilotaxia, by size adjustments and text incorporation.

Toxicological disorders reported

Regarding the addictive effects generated by nicotine consumption, the toxicological risk factors suffered by moderate users, or even people who frequent smoking sites, the following adverse effects are reported: anxiety, apathy, appetite, headache, urges to smoke, insomnia, irritability, and concentration problems, while chronic users report more serious symptoms, among which the most significant are; bronchitis and chronic pneumonia, cancer of the lung, mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, cervix, kidneys, urethra, and bladder, organ function decline, bodily pain, cardiovascular problems, hypertensive disorders, and multiple psychiatric disorders.

Pharmacological effects

Clinical responses

Despite the toxicological disorders and adverse health effects caused by nicotine, many countries have reported positive pharmacological effects attributed to this phytometabolite from leaf blades of Nicotiana tabacum specimens, mainly in pathologies related to neurological conditions, psychiatric conditions, dermal affections, and body weakness, such is the case of Colombia, where nicotine is applied as a topical substance for the treatment of infected wounds and against poisonous bites, while in the United States it is consumed as a liquid extract against physical exhaustion, and as an analgesic [6].

Nicotina consumption and legal aspects

Legal provisions

The addiction to nicotine, added to the multiple diseases and the exponential cases of deaths that prescribed habits of chronic consumption of cigarettes or tobacco, on a global scale has generated a collective interest among countries of all continents, the result of which is notorious to be established a whole regulation of control and consumption of products based on leafy leaves of tobacco Nicotiana tabacum, signed with the World Health Organization (WHO), where common objectives have been set to ensure public health, through surveillance schemes at the level of manufacturing, packaging, labeling, distribution and consumption of nicotine-based products [7].


  • Like the previous manuscripts shared with the entire academic community active on the HIVE platform, the published material synthesizes relevant content on the physiological and toxicological properties of the psychoactive species Nicotiana tabacum (Tobacco), by presenting scientific-technical information on the general characteristics, pharmacokinetic behavior, pharmacological and psychoactive effects of nicotine, the main phytometabolite present in the leaf blades of this plant material.


[1] Nuñez G. Estudios sobre el tabaco: Los alcaloides Farmacología y Toxicología. ARS Pharmaceutica. 1963; 4; 2: 133 – 149. Article: Online access

[2] Aarti R., and Rakesh R. Phytochemical Properties and Pharmcological Activities of Nicotiana Tabacum: A Review. Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical & Biological Research (IJPBR). 2013; 1; 1: 74 -82. Article: Online access

[3] González J., y Gurdián W. Cultivo de Tabaco Nicotiana tabacum L. Escuela Agrícola Panamericana Departamento de Protección Vegetal. 1998; 50. Article: Online access

[4] Molero A., y Muñoz J. Psicofarmacología de la nicotina y conducta adictiva. Trastornos Adictivos. 2005; 7; 3: 137 – 52. Article: Online access

[5] Aguilera K., y Quintero C. Efectos Neurobioquímicos de la Nicotina en el cerebro humano. Revista 16 de Abril. 2015; 54; 260: 31-41. Article: Online access

[6] Sandeep V., and Dilip K. Traditional Medicinal Usage of Tobacco – A Review. Spatula DD. 2012; 2; 2: 127 – 134. Article: Online access

[7] Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS) . Informe sobre la base científica de la reglamentación de los productos de tabaco. Grupo de estudio de la OMS sobre reglamentación de los productos de tabaco. ISBN 978 92 4 320967 8. 2012; 98. Article: Online access


The cover image was designed by the author: @lupafilotaxia, incorporating the public domain image background: Magnus Manske, 2009 CC BY-SA 3.0


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