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Does Tea Contain Nicotine?

Most avid tea drinkers know that true teas from the camellia sinensis plant contain caffeine, minerals, and even healthy antioxidants. This makes them highly beneficial beverages for both your physical and mental health. 

But have you ever heard that tea might contain nicotine as well?  If that’s true, how does this affect the health of tea drinkers around the world?

Studies have confirmed that nicotine is present in certain types of tea leaves. Fortunately, the level of nicotine present is extremely low. This, combined with the way nicotine is absorbed when ingested, results in no adverse health effects when drinking these brewed teas. 

If tea is one of your favorite and most consumed drinks, read on to find out which teas contain nicotine, how the absorption of this nicotine plays a crucial role in its effects, and what this means for your health.

Which Teas Contain Nicotine?

While it is true that small amounts of nicotine can be found in tea leaves, you might be relieved to hear that this is not the case with every type of tea. In fact, only a handful of tea types contain this potentially addictive substance. 

Of the many varieties of true and herbal teas available, nicotine is only found in:

  • Black tea leaves
  • Green tea leaves
  • Oolong tea leaves
  • Select instant tea leaves 
is nicotine in tea addictive

How Much Nicotine is in Tea?

The level of nicotine present is significantly low, measuring no more than 0.7 μg of nicotine per 1 gram of dry tea leaves.  And that’s micrograms (μg), not milligrams (mg),  which is 1/1000 of a mg.

Interestingly, trace levels of nicotine are also found in nightshade vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. 

Is the Nicotine in Tea Addictive?

When people hear the word “nicotine,” most immediately picture cigarettes or cigars and think about how hard it is to kick the habit if you’re ever been a smoker. 

The good news is tea is not addictive due to its nicotine content. This is for two reasons:

  • The levels of nicotine in tea are significantly low and even decrease further when the leaves are brewed.
  • Nicotine from tea leaves is not processed the same as it would when smoking a cigarette or cigar.

There’s no denying that some tea leaves contain nicotine, but, as we mentioned previously, the amount of nicotine found in tea leaves is so low it is almost inconsequential at 0.7 μg/g.  In contrast, there is 10-12 mg of nicotine in an average cigarette. 

Nicotine Absorption from Tea

Another reason why drinking tea with nicotine isn’t addictive is because the nicotine is broken down by your digestive system after it is consumed. 

This differs widely from smoking cigarettes and cigars, where you inhale the nicotine. As a result, your lungs and bloodstream actually absorb the high levels of nicotine, giving it a more immediate pathway to your brain, where it releases a number of chemicals and stimulates the brain’s dopamine production. 

The combination of these chemicals and dopamine (the hormone that causes feelings of happiness or pleasure) increases your body’s dependency on the nicotine that progresses into addiction. 

Because the digestive system doesn’t provide these immediate pathways to the brain, and the tea leaves have far lower amounts of nicotine in general, this process doesn’t occur to the extent required to lead to addiction. 

nicotine in tea leaves

The Takeaway:  The Trace Amounts of Nicotine in Tea are Harmless

Most people are shocked to learn that some tea leaves contain a level of nicotine, but it’s a comfort to know that the trace levels of nicotine, along with how it is absorbed, means you can’t become addicted to it from just drinking tea made from these leaves. 

In reality, if you’re worried about something in your tea causing an addiction, you might want to look at the caffeine in tea. Many teas contain levels of caffeine that can result in a dependency on this stimulant. 

So, if you feel like you have to have your daily cup of tea, odds are the culprit is its caffeine contents, not nicotine.  

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