If you’re seeking a great nicotine buzz, two types of e-liquids can provide you with that coveted nic hit. Recent industry innovation nicotine salts, also known as salt nic, represents one option, while freebase nicotine, available in the form of vape juice, represents the other. For the amateur vaper (and even those who are seasoned), knowing which liquid to choose–and which device to use–can be confusing.
However, by familiarizing yourself with the features of each e-liquid, you can optimize your vaping experience: whether you’re seeking a quick, strong hit, or a more subtle, gradual buzz
In this article we’ll walk you through the pros and cons of nicotine salts and classic vape juice containing freebase nicotine, and the devices best suited to each. Armed with information, you can figure out which option best suits your needs.
What is Salt Nic?
Nicotine salts, or salt nic, is a more natural form of nicotine–closer to the nicotine that is present in tobacco leaves. Despite what the name suggests, salt nic doesn’t contain any salt, and won’t make your vape juice taste salty either. Salt is simply a chemistry term that describes the chemical constitution of the substance.
Salt nic contains the same nicotine concentration used in tobacco. However, an additive (benzoic acid) is added to the e-liquid to lower pH levels, which increases the nicotine concentration and allows the nicotine to vaporize at lower temperatures.
Helpfully, this addition also results in a smoother, less harsh vaping experience. Ironically, the vaper gets a more nicotine-rich experience that’s also milder. There are also options available when it comes to concentration.
Practically speaking, if you’re seeking a potent nicotine hit, salt nic lets you achieve it with fewer puffs that are also milder on the throat. The concentration of nicotine in salt nic also means it hits your bloodstream faster, so not only is the hit more powerful, it’s also faster-acting. Salt nic is somewhat comparable to the combustible sensation of a traditional cigarette. In other words, you get a more satisfying nicotine hit without having to vape as often.
What’s Freebase Nicotine?
The other alternative to salt nic is freebase nicotine. Most vape juice is formulated with freebase. Freebase is a more pure form of nicotine that was founded in the 60s by the Marlboro cigarette brand. Nicotine in tobacco leaves is not the most effective way of delivering nicotine into our bodies because the ions have a tough time moving across organic membranes (which is why salt nic is altered with benzoic acid.)
The freebasing process, however, changes this. Freebasing changes nicotine from its ‘salt’ state by stripping away salt protons using ammonia. As a result, the nicotine can travel across our cellular membranes more efficiently, making it more bioavailable (so you get that stronger nicotine hit). However, this process also elevates the pH level of nicotine, so it feels harsher on the throat the more you smoke.
What is Vape Juice?
Whether you’re consuming freebase nicotine or nic salt, you’ll be consuming it in an e-liquid format. Liquids used in vape tanks and devices are also commonly called vape juice or e-juice.
Regular vape juice typically contains a blend of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin or glycerol, flavor, and nicotine. Propylene glycol (PG) is a relatively odorless, clear liquid that helps provide a throat sensation that’s similar to smoking. Vegetable glycerine (VG), which is made from vegetable fat, provides vapor. These compounds can be blended in different concentrations to create distinctive vape experiences. For example, those who are focused on flavor will likely lean towards an even VG:PG ratio while cloud chasers will typically opt for a much higher VG concentration. Individuals who are all about discretion will go for e-liquids with a higher PG ratio.
Liquid nicotine–either in freebase or salt nic format– is usually included in the juice. It’s also available in a range of concentrations, so you can select the strength that suits your needs. Freebase nicotine is available in lower concentrations than salt nic.
The presence of nicotine often improves the “throat hit” of e-liquid, making it feel more like a cigarette. For individuals who are weaning themselves off cigarettes, nicotine-infused e-liquids represent a safer way to get their nicotine fix, without the harms associated with smoking. However, there are also e-juices that don’t contain nicotine.
Flavors provide yet another dimension that cater to personal preference. Vapers can choose from fruit, bubblegum, cereal or even ketchup flavors.
What’s the Difference Between Salt Nic and Freebase Nicotine?
The main difference between salt nic and freebase nicotine is the vaping experience each delivers.
Individuals who opt for freebase nicotine often favor vaping more frequently throughout the day, getting a modest hit each time. By smoking little and often, they can enjoy the ritual of lighting up and inhaling while avoiding the throat harshness that accompanies a heavy vape session. However, too many puffs, and the throat feeling becomes abrasive. In addition, smoking frequently to relieve cravings means using more e-liquid, which can become costly.
Alternatively, salt nic allows vapers who are fans of nicotine to get a more potent nic shot with fewer puffs. Salt nic is generally favored by heavy nicotine users who are seeking a heavy hit but don't want to vape incessantly. With higher concentrations available in salt nic e-liquids, cravings are also more readily satisfied. Salt nic means you end up vaping less because you get a lot more nicotine.
It’s also important to point out that many people turn to vaping because they’re trying to give up cigarettes. Those who have been heavy smokers often find that the throat hit from a high dose of freebase nicotine is too severe to enjoy. This can lead to new vapers reducing the nicotine content of their eliquid to reduce the harshness. However, by lowering nicotine intake too quickly, vaping newbies don’t satisfy their cravings, and so return to cigarettes.
Here’s a quick checklist that covers off the key characteristics of each:
- Use benzoic or citric acid as an additive (both are safe compounds)
- Are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream
- Feel smooth at high doses
- Can’t handle high flavor complexity
- Do not enable large cloud production
- Best suited to mouth-to-lung vaping style
- More expensive by volume
- Well-suited to higher concentrations of nicotine
- Ideal for new vapers, or mixed users
- Pair well with pod vapes and lower power vape devices
- Require less liquid than freebase
- Is more shelf stable and oxidizes slowly, meaning a longer shelf life
- Contains no additives but is chemically altered
- Has a slower absorption rate
- Feels harsh at high doses
- Can handle high flavor complexity
- Allows for large cloud production
- Suited to mouth-to-lung or direct-to-lung vaping styles
- Less expensive than salt nic by volume
- Better suited to low and medium nicotine levels
- Ideal for vapers with lower nicotine requirements
- Pairs best with higher power vape tanks
- More liquid needed for comparable nicotine hit
- Shorter shelf life due to faster oxidation
Which Devices Are Used with Salt Nic?
Nicotine salts are ideally suited to vape pod systems and lower power vape devices. A general rule of thumb when you’re buying devices suited to salt nic is to make sure they have a coil/pod with a resistance of 1 ohm or higher. These high resistance coils produce a cooler vape that is ideal for mouth to lung vapers.
Vape pods tend to have lower power output, higher resistance, and a smaller coil. This combination makes for smaller clouds with a higher concentration of atomized nicotine. The upshot of these features makes for greater discretion and a more intense hit. Another bonus is that low wattage devices tend to be low profile. They’re also typically user-friendly for smokers who are new to vaping.
Lower power devices are available in two options: open system (refillable pods) and closed system. Open system devices can be refilled manually when used up. The benefit to open systems is that any nicotine salt products can be used with them, meaning access to a larger range of brands and flavors.
Closed system devices are sold pre-filled at an appropriate nicotine strength to match the device's output. You don't need to refill the pod–simply dispose of a pod once it's empty and replace it with a new pre-filled pod. Those new to vaping who are transitioning from cigarettes should consider starting out with a closed pod system device.
High strength nic salt vape juice (20mg+) shouldn’t be used with sub-ohm devices as it can deliver too much nicotine at once, triggering unpleasant effects such as headaches, nausea, or an erratic heart rate–in other words, you’ll get nic sick.
If you’re looking for a sleek pod vape system or vape pen, we have you covered–take a look at our range of discreet, easy-to-use devices, including vape kits.
Which Devices Are Used with Freebase Nicotine?
Sub-ohm tanks are ideal for freebase nicotine e-liquids. These tanks produce puffy clouds of vapor and intense flavor. This double whammy is achieved by pairing low resistance coils that are less than 1ohm with a battery that can deliver a high wattage.
Sub-ohm tanks help ensure safer, smoother vaporization and more efficient delivery of the lesser nicotine concentrations. Low resistance coils produce warmer vapor and larger clouds which are better suited for direct-lung vapers.
Users who enjoy large clouds, flavor hits and lower nicotine content tend to opt for these tanks. Freebase e-liquids can also be used with pods for a more discreet experience, but pod systems can’t atomize lower nicotine concentrations.
Check out our extensive range of funky sub-ohm tanks here.
Freebase vs Salt Nic: Which Should You Pick?
When it comes to choosing between freebase and salt nic, it all comes down to personal preference. In simple terms, freebase is best suited to those who:
- Want less nicotine
- Favor more flavor
- Are cloud chasers
- Like sub-ohm devices
- Are direct-lung vapers
- Enjoy a throat hit
On the other hand, salt nic is ideal for individuals who:
- Are highly dependent on nicotine
- Are heavy smokers (if they’re transitioning from cigarettes, they were probably smoking a pack a day or thereabouts)
- Are mouth-to-lung vapers
- Aren’t too fussed about flavor
- Prefer a more discreet vaping experience