Nicotine, the primary alkaloid in the tobacco plant, has been used as a pesticide, a tobacco enhancer, and recently has been used in nicotine replacement products and even more recently used in the production of the controversial e-cigarettes. Nicotine was first extracted from the tobacco plant in the 1700s and used for pesticide. It was first isolated by German Chemists Posselt & Reimann in 1828, and these scientists classified this chemical as a poison. In 1893 Adolf Pinner and Richard Wolffenstein discovered the structure of nicotine.
Nicotine Extraction methods vary greatly. They include water extraction, organic solvent extraction, steam distillation and direct distillation. All methods require several types of specialized equipment or specialized chemicals or both. For instance substances such as methanol and isooctane are used as organic solvents in the solvent extraction method. Microscopic changes in the particle size of ground raw tobacco can determine whether the optimum extraction of nicotine is obtained while near-ultraviolet radiation can increase the nicotine content of the tobacco before extraction. Something as small as a 10 percent change in the water content of the tobacco leaves can increase or decrease the nicotine yields during extraction nearly 70 percent.
Nicotine vapors will combust at a mere 95 °F (35 °C) which is below the liquid’s boiling point. The molecule also is readily absorbed by human skin, so lab technicians that work with the chemical must wear full chemically resistant protective clothing, which includes eye protection, chemical gloves, as well as other protective equipment. The vapors are also poisonous when inhaled and depending on the method of extraction, could become deadly. Other chemicals, such as arsenic, are sometimes rendered during extraction, which can also pose a poisoning hazard. Because of this, only qualified registered labs should attempt nicotine extraction.