When you first get started vaping, the sheer volume of devices, vape styles and e-liquids, in particular, can be pretty overwhelming. With nic salts and freebase nicotine vape juice, you'll discover vape juice using two different methods - one with a lower PH (nic salts) and one with a higher PH level (freebase).
The former is relatively new in the industry and involves extracting nicotine from the nightshade family of plants and blending it with a high-level acidity such as benzoic acid. Meanwhile, the ‘freebasing’ of nicotine in cigarettes first became popular during the 1960s with Marlboro adding ammonia.
Keep reading for our comprehensive guide to nicotine salts, freebase nicotine e-liquids and the difference between them to help you pick the perfect vape juice for you, whether you’re a brand new beginner or seasoned vaper!
Nic Salts vs. Freebase Nicotine
Like so much in the world of vaping, there is no one form of nicotine or e-liquid that is better or worse than the other. It all comes down to personal preference and the things that are important to you when you vape. There are pros and cons for both freebase nicotine and nic salt e-liquids, and the perfect one for you might be completely different to someone else.
Freebase nicotine in consumer goods today is the purest and most commonly used source of nicotine, and it’s what you’ll find in the majority of e-liquids, as well as in traditional tobacco cigarettes.
To give a more concentrated nicotine hit without needing to increase the concentration, freebase nicotine strips excess chemicals and protons from the naturally-occurring nicotine in the tobacco plant. It was found that a much higher, more powerful nicotine rush could be obtained with freebase nicotine compared to nicotine in its natural form, which was the norm before the discovery of freebase nicotine.
Freebase nicotine has since become the standard source of nicotine in both cigarettes and nicotine replacement therapies, including e-cigarettes. It’s also a very alkaline solution, which can cause an intense throat hit in stronger concentrations. For some vapers, this is a real draw, while for others it will turn them off if the hit is too strong, which is where nicotine salts can be a strong alternative.
Nic salts are also known as nicotine salts and are a specific type of e-liquid with a slightly different composition to your traditional e-liquids (which are known as freebase e-liquids). If you pick up a beginners vaping kit or a pre-filled pod kit, the chances are you’ll get a freebase nicotine e-liquid with them, but other types of e-liquid can be great for new users and experienced vapers alike, including nicotine salts.
Nicotine salts are a form of e-liquid that can deliver nicotine to the body more quickly than traditional freebase e-liquids. This results in a much stronger, quicker and more intense nicotine rush than with freebase nicotine e-liquids, which is one of the reasons nicotine salts are popular with new vapers or ex-smokers who are used to smoking quite heavily, as nic salts give you the impression of a stronger nicotine hit, without actually having any more nicotine in the e-juice formula.
Current restrictions on vape products mean that no e-liquids with more than 20mg/ml of nicotine (or 2% strength) can be sold in the UK, so nicotine salts offer a solution to those who require a stronger e-liquid. They also have a much smoother “throat hit” sensation, compared to freebase nicotine e-liquids, which means the average vaper can usually comfortably vape higher-nicotine e-liquids in salt form than in freebase form. Of course, for some vapers, a strong, intense throat hit is an integral part of their vaping experience, so freebase liquids would be the better choice for these users, but if you’re looking for a strong, intense nicotine rush that satisfies all your cravings, nicotine salts are a fantastic option.
Is Freebase Juice or Nic Salts Better?
For new vapers, in particular, the right strength of e-liquid is an important factor to not just help you enjoy vaping, but to stay away from cigarettes in the long run. Choosing the right nicotine strength for your e-liquid is vital when you first start vaping, as it may be the difference between a fun and pleasant vape experience and one that is unsustainable and doesn’t fulfil your nicotine cravings sufficiently to stay away from cigarettes.
The way freebase nicotine and nicotine salts affect your body in e-liquids are completely individual, so what works for one person might be different for another, and that’s the beauty of vaping!
To potentially narrow down why you should pick one over the other, we have compiled a list of positives and negatives for both:
Nic Salt Benefits
·Faster absorption into the bloodstream
·Reduced cloud production in comparison to freebase
·A smoother hit, even with more nicotine
·Less harsh on the throat than freebase
·Ideal for mouth to lung vaping
·Perfect for pairing with a device needing minimal setup or technical knowledge of vaping
·High strength resonates with heavy smokers needing a regular rush of nicotine
·Longer expiration date than freebase thanks to a slower oxidation
·You do not need to vape as much liquid
Freebase Nicotine Benefits
·Cheaper than nic salts
·Produce larger clouds, so ideal for Sub-Ohm vaping
·Can vape at a slower pace over a sustained period
·Able to switch between MTL & DTL
·Can handle high flavour complexity
·Lower nicotine strengths so better for those further along in cutting down the nicotine journey
·Ideal for new vapers fresh from ‘social smoker’ habits
The Safety of Both Explained
Instead of forming any salt crystals (a common misconception), nicotine salts blend when the freebase nicotine (which is very alkaline) mixes with an acid. While they’re called nicotine salts, these e-liquids don’t contain any salt - this name refers to the chemical structure of the nicotine in nic salt formulas, so you don’t need to be concerned about your sodium intake!
Benzoic acid is the most regularly used, but citric acid or a combination of the two is also pretty common - as both naturally occur in our bodies and are even present in fruits. Through this chemical reaction, the nicotine becomes less alkaline, which reduces that same throat hit sensation but also means that the body can safely absorb nicotine salts far more quickly than freebase nicotine, giving you that intense nicotine rush. The lower pH of nic salts also means that the temperature needed to vape is much lower than it would be without acid treatment, which means that users can vape nic salts at fairly low temperatures, and vapers with smaller, less powerful devices can still comfortably use these e-liquids. Nevertheless, there is no definitive evidence to suggest nic salt is safer than freebase or vice versa, as both are relatively harmless when vaped.
Interestingly, nicotine salts are the form of nicotine that occurs naturally in the tobacco plant, despite freebase nicotine having been used far more widely for centuries. They are the least modified form of nicotine, making them fantastic for use in a strong, intense vape.
Which Should You Pick?
You’re stranded on an island and have to pick one of the two - which do you opt for between nic salts and freebase? Essentially, it all boils down to what setup you prefer. If you want to vape large clouds of vapour and have a bit of a harsher throat hit, traditional freebase should still be your go-to option.
However, more recently, we have seen the emergence of nic salts as a popular choice with vapers. If you want to give up smoking, use a low-powered device, vape minimal cloud but still get the desired throat hit and enough nicotine at a higher strength, nic salts may be for you.