Salt Nic Vs. Freebase E-Liquids: Which One To Go For?

Posted by Matt Lovell on

CHOOSING THE RIGHT E-LIQUID FOR YOU 

Salt nic juice is perfect for vapers who prefer a smaller puffs of more potent nicotine to get through their day. You can browse nic salts by brands to find the best flavors. Smooth, flavorful and with next to no throat hit, nic salts are an extremely popular option with vapers who prioritize convenience, instant satisfaction, and discretion. Nic salts are found in prefilled vape pod kits and disposable vapes. In bottled form, they are commonly used in refillable vape pod kits and MTL devices.

Freebase Nicotine is the only fuel for the mighty subohm box mod. A high-strength nic salt is not to be vaped on a high-wattage setting. Although there is no reason that smaller amounts nicotine salts cannot be used in less potent e-liquid formulas, the bulk of lower nicotine options on the market use freebase nicotine. If your bottle does not say “nicotine salts” on the label it is probably freebase.

Freebase nicotine is not limited to box mod users. Most freebase nic e-liquids are 70 percent vegetable glycerin and 30 percent propylene glycol. Some are even 80/20. This max-VG formulation is designed for cloud production. But it does not mean you need a mod to vape it.

The newest generation of refillable vape pod kits have the power and subohm coils necessary to vape higher-VG e-liquids, which are thicker and more viscous. There are many vapers who prefer the lower nicotine strengths and flexibility offered by freebase nicotine. Most freebase e-liquids come with a nicotine free option. The other common strengths of 3mg, 6mg and occasionally 12mg. As nic salts juices usually range from 25mg to 50mg, the benefit to anyone looking to limit their nicotine intake is obvious. The key to vaping freebase nicotine from a convenient refillable vape pod kit is to pick the lowest resistance pod option. Resistance is measured in ohms on vaping devices. Just look for the lowest number and that rule of thumb should get you to where you need to be.

Vaping Technology Over the Years

Vaporizers and e-liquids have come a long way since the introduction of the first-ever e-cigarette in the early 2000s. While the earliest cartomizer and eGo designs were relatively simple and effective devices, they were eventually supplanted by powerful sub-ohm vapes, pod mods, box mods, even desktop vaporizers. Box mods eventually required 18650 batteries, previously the province of flashlights and later used to power the first Tesla coupe. There was a reason that vaping devices and hardware grew ever more powerful: the nicotine strength in regular, or freebase, nicotine was limited by its higher pH level. Any effort to ramp up the strength resulted in a cloud of harshness.

When vaping regular nicotine e-liquids, anything above 24mg delivers a stiff throat hit and chest burn. To counteract this limitation, box mod vapers turned to lower nicotine formulas and with big-time vapor production to compensate.

SALT NIC JUICES

Vaping came full circle with the advent of nic salts. Small devices were once again viable and exceedingly popular. The first to hit the market was the Juul prefilled vape pod system. Incredibly easy to use, it leveraged a much more potent nic salt e-liquid formula into market dominance.

Juul seized marketshare with what would have otherwise been a woefully underpowered device because nicotine salts. A Juul has a mere 200mAh battery and kicks out maybe 11w, depending on what pod is installed. This would have been a laughable way to vape lower-nicotine freebase juices.

As discussed above, higher nicotine freebase juices in the 24 to 36mg range were reserved for hardcore fans who wanted the most abrasive possible experience. Nic salts cut the Gordian Knot of potency versus harsher due to their lower pH level. Juul hit the market with a previously unheard of nicotine strength of 50mg!

Studies have also shown that nic salts cross the blood brain barrier more easily. This nic salt revolution allowed the otherwise underpowered and lackluster Juul device to deliver satisfaction and great flavor. It turns out many adult vapers are concerned primarily with ease of use. It was a modern looking compact device that you don’t really have to think about. A Juul can be fired without the crackling, sweet vapor smell and gargling of a box mod. The fact a Juul does not require filling but instead uses swappable pods was another feature.  These features eventually were to blow up in their face but were also very appealing to adult vapers.

As alluded to above, the lower pH level allows vape juice manufacturers to add much more nicotine to a given VG/PG e-liquid and the throat hit remains smooth and palatable.

Juul, and later bottled salt nic juice manufacturers, churn out popular e-liquids with nic strengths of 25mg and even 50mg. With a greater nicotine strength, you need to consume less e-liquid for satisfying experience.

In real world terms, nic salts allow vapers to use small and less powerful devices for everyday vaping. These smaller devices that would be substandard if filled with lower nicotine max-VG e-liquids and unduly harsh if filled with a freebase nicotine e-liquid that attempted to match the potency of the typical nic salt.  A 50mg freebase nicotine e-liquid would be difficult for even the strongest throated vaper to tolerate.

SALTS?

It is time to address the word “nic salts.” It is a bit deceiving. Nicotine salts are simply a form of nicotine that is added to the same vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol base that has been used in just about every nicotine vape juice since day one. They do not resemble salts. Nicotine salt is a scientific term that reflects how benzoic acid has changed the molecular structure of the nicotine.

There is no reason why a nicotine salt e-liquid needs to be a higher nicotine formula. Some manufacturers make their lower nicotine and max-VG e-liquids, designed for sub-ohm tanks, with small amounts of nic salts. This is an exception and most nic salt e-liquids should not be vaped in a high wattage system.

Luckily, nic salt bottles have a warning label that informs the user that they are designed for refillable vape pod kits or similarly low wattage devices. Moreover, the nic strength will always be spelled out on the label. If it says 25mg or 50mg, you should not be putting it in your sub-ohm cloud generator.  

Nicotine salts appeal to vapers who want to consume less e-liquid and enjoy a more discrete experience. Box mods are great. I own several. But they are noisy, big, and require a lot of e-liquid. A nic salt filled vape pod isn’t much bigger than a cigarette lighter and the vapor production is minimal.

Nicotine salts are popular for this very reason. Less vapor means less power is required. Less power means manufacturers can use a smaller a battery. A smaller battery means an easier to carry device.

DISPOSABLE VAPE PENS 

The inevitable outcome of nic salts has been the emergence of disposable vape pens. Their technology is quite similar, and in the case of the original Puff Bar and Posh identical, to the original gas station disposables that were rejected as ineffectual by adult vapers a decade ago.

It is amazing how nic salts have rejuvenated the technology. Crack open the fanciest looking disposable and you will find a cotton polyfill soaked with nic salts, a couple buffers and stoppers to prevent leaking, and a battery. That is all that is inside of a disposable vape.   

The addition of potent nic salts to disposables was further augmented aesthetic changes. The whole fake cigarette, or cigalike, look with fake brown or yellow banded filter, white tube and orange glowing light that was supposed to look like a burning ember was mercifully jettisoned into the ashcan of history.

Disposables today are sleeker and have a modern look. They are popular with adult vapers because they are super easy to use. There is no button push and no wattage to adjust. A disposable vape pen user need not concern themselves with coils, pods or charging.

You simply open the packaging and puff on a compact draw activated device. And unlike the Juul and Vuse Alto they are supplanting in popularity, disposable vape pens are still available in the sweet fruit and beverage flavors that the majority of adult vapers prefer. The federal flavor ban on prefilled vape pods has seen to that.

REFILLABLE VAPE POD KITS 

Disposable vapes and prefilled vape pod kits are popular. They are not the most cost-effective way to vape nic salts. A refillable vape pod kit provides even better flavor and performance, and at a fraction of the cost. Nicotine salt e-liquids are sold in 30ml bottles. Even the largest disposable holds maybe a quarter of this much e-liquid and costs as much as the 30ml bottle.

A high-quality refillable vape pod kit like the Vaporesso XRos Mini requires an initial investment of about $30. This initial outlay of $50 gets you the equivalent of nearly 43 Juul pods worth of vaping. Once you are up and running, the savings continue to grow as the refillable device need not be replaced and the long-lasting pods will generally make it through most of a bottle. Replacement pods cost about $5.

Refillable vape pods are at the cutting edge of vaping technology. While filling is still required, they have been made very user friendly. The Vaporesso XRos Mini for instance is also draw activated and has clear pods so you can track your e-liquid levels. The fill ports are larhe and the 1000mAh battery can go a couple days between charges. It is smaller than the larger disposable vapes and has a form factor similar to a Juul. The simple act of filling your own device can save money and gives you access to any bottled salt nic juice on the market.

An even bigger feature of the refillable vape pod kit is that most are now powerful enough to handle e-liquids that are not nic salts. Almost every vape pod kit on the market now has two pod options. One is for nicotine salts and the other is for lower-nicotine freebase e-liquids. While the two pods are generally similar enough to handle either, there is a distinct performance difference. In our example of the Vaporesso XROS Mini, the 0.8ohm pod is great for freebase e-liquids and lower strength nic salts. The 1.2ohm pod is for 50mg salt nic.

This flexibility opens a whole world of lower nicotine vape juices and freebase nicotine formulas for the refillable vape pod kit user.

THE SCIENCE BEHIND FREEBASE AND NIC SALT E-LIQUIDS 

 

All this talk of vape pods, Juuls and disposables does not mean that nicotine salts are the be-all and end-all for every vaper. Many vaping enthusiasts prefer their more powerful box mods, cloud chasing and the use of e-liquids with lower nicotine strengths.

For cloud chases, the availability of thousands of unique flavors coming from hundreds of reliable manufacturers is not something they are willing to discard just to have access to smaller device. And what makes these vape juices even more appealing than their sweet taste is the fact that you can control the exact nicotine level with each bottle. 

If you need just a subtle hit of nicotine to get through the day, you can choose from countless freebase nicotine e-juices that’ll satiate your cravings. Almost every freebase nicotine e-liquid comes

If your favorite 100 ml e-juice bottles don’t specify “nic salt,” you’ve most likely been using freebase nicotine. It’s the most popular form of nicotine in vape juice developed by none other than the Philip Morris company back in the 1960s, and it’s used in traditional tobacco cigarettes, nicotine gums and patches, and, as mentioned – vapes. 

To create freebase nicotine, manufacturers use ammonia to remove protons from nicotine in tobacco leaves and increase its pH levels, making it more alkaline. This process transforms nicotine from its natural chemical composition of salt into its purest form. 

The main reason why freebasing became commonplace is that nicotine in its salt state is a weak base, so it’s always looking to ionize. But, unfortunately, ions aren’t very effective at moving through organic membranes, and they’re not easily vaporized, so ionized nicotine is much weaker. As a result, it doesn’t deliver that strong yet pleasant punch when vaped. 

On the other hand, freebase nicotine has higher bioavailability. Our bodies can process it more efficiently, meaning that cigarettes and vapes that use it are more potent, and in most cases, more addictive because of it. But there are a few downsides to freebase nicotine in vape juices. 

WHAT FREEBASE E-LIQUIDS ARE LACKING 

On paper, it seems like freebase nicotine is the way to go when you’re vaping, but that’s not the case. 

Over 79% of vapers choose to vape in an attempt to reduce smoking. For effective smoking cessation, vaping needs to be similar to tobacco smoking as possible, so vape juice needs to have adequate nicotine levels that satiate the vaper’s cravings. In essence, vapes need to replicate the nicotine delivery of traditional tobacco closely. The only way they could do that is with higher nicotine content. 

The problem is that freebase nicotine is more alkaline, with a higher pH level. This alkalinity makes it much harsher. So, when you vape e-liquids with higher freebase nicotine content, you won’t enjoy the experience. The throat punch is too strong to be pleasant. 

Therefore, most freebase nicotine e-liquids don’t contain much nicotine, and this brings further problems. Vapers who are trying to quit smoking often find themselves still craving their nicotine hit after a vape session. So, they either return to traditional tobacco cigarettes or see themselves vaping much more frequently than expected. 

WHAT IS SALT NICOTINE? 

The first thing that’s important to clear off the table is that salt nicotine juice isn’t the same as your regular table salt. Nic salts won’t taste salty or increase your sodium intake in any way, shape, or form. 

The term “salt” refers to chemical compounds that have both a positive charge (aka acid) and a negative charge (aka base). In nature, nicotine exists as a salt compound in tobacco leaves, and it’s this salt compound used to create freebase nicotine. 

Suppose you put natural salt nicotine into the PG/VG juice and attempt to vape it. In that case, you’d have difficulty doing anything since nic salts need extremely high temperatures to become vaporized. So even the most powerful box mod wouldn’t do much. 

And, as mentioned, even if you were successful in vaporizing nic salts, the typical vaper would not be all that satisfied with the result. Nic salts don’t have excellent bioavailability, and your body wouldn’t be able to absorb them. 

To make salt nicotine juice effective, we need to put on our lab coats and play around with chemistry for a bit. 

PREPPING NIC SALTS FOR VAPING 

If you remember, we mentioned that nic salts were a weak base, so they need protons to stabilize and become ionized, which reduces their bioavailability and all that jazz. So, to improve their bioavailability and make them easier to vaporize, nic salt manufacturers add acids like Benzoic or Citric acid to stabilize the nicotine. 

These acids quickly bond to nicotine and bring a few unique benefits to vape juices: 

  • They make it much easier for our bodies to absorb nic salts; 
  • They allow nic salts to vaporize at much lower temperatures; 
  • They provide a smoother throat hit. 

But the question remains – why go through all that trouble of modifying nic salts with acids when you could just continue using freebase nicotine? 

FREEBASE VS. SALT NICOTINE JUICE 

The main difference between freebase and salt nicotine juice is potency. Freebase nicotine is pretty strong, delivering a powerful throat hit. But to make it so potent, you need high concentrations of alkaline nicotine, which can be exceptionally harsh on your throat. 

On the other hand, salt nicotine juice is more acidic thanks to the addition of Citric or Benzoic acid, so it’s capable of delivering a smoother throat hit regardless of the nicotine content. You can vape 50 mg vape juices that feel pleasant and relaxing and that don’t throw you into a coughing fit. 

And, of course, there’s the matter of bioavailability. Freebase nicotine gets absorbed by your body more quickly than naturally occurring nicotine salts. However, with Citric or Benzoic acids, nic salt vape juice becomes much more effective than traditional freebase nicotine. 

Take a look at this more comprehensive face-off in the battle of nic salts vs. freebase nicotine: 

Nic Salts 

  • Smooth at higher doses 
  • Has Benzoic or Citric acid 
  • Your body can absorb it faster 
  • Most often used in higher potency e-liquids
  • Suitable for mouth-to-lung vaping 
  • Slower oxidation 
  • Longer shelf life 

Freebase nicotine 

  • Harsh at higher doses 
  • No additives 
  • Slower absorption 
  • Allows for good cloud production 
  • Handles flavors well 
  • Suitable for both mouth-to-lung and direct-to-lung vaping 
  • Faster oxidation 
  • Shorter shelf life 

Another notable difference between salt nicotine juice and freebase e-liquids is that the former need specific vaporizers. 


THE RIGHT VAPORIZER FOR FREEBASE E-LIQUIDS 

 

If you want to vape freebase e-liquids in the way for which they were formulated, you will probably want a sub-ohm device. This is required because in 2021 most freebase nicotine e-liquids are 70 to 80 percent vegetable with a strong focus on cloud production. Most nic salts on the other hand have a 50/50 split. There are exceptions but these are few and far between. The issue of PG and VG ratios warrants its own feature length article and is beyond the scope of this review.

There was once a time when extremely strong, high-PG eliquids with freebase were popular. These were vaped in the sundry eGo Twists, clearomizers and cartomizers. This design may seem outmoded today but delivers fantastic flavor and is a perfectly reasonable way to vape nic salts.

But as for those higher-PG eliquids, outside of those who want harshest of throat hits, the choice for most vapers comes down to big clouds, high-VG, low-nicotine freebase or potent nic salts. Keep in mind there is a middle ground between but these two options dominate the vaping market.

High wattage sub-ohm vaping, tank systems and more powerful box mods are a big no-no for potent nicotine salts as they’ll hit you hard and give you too much nicotine at once. But they are perfect for less potent e-liquid formulas.

But it is always worth noting the newest generation of refillable vape pods can also handle freebase nicotine. While not as effective at cloud generation as a box mod, convenience of a refillable vape pod kit coupled with a 6 or 12mg freebase nicotine e-liquid is a great choice for anyone trying to avoid the high nicotine strength levels of the typical salt nic juice.

If you don’t mind investing in a more long-lasting device, you should get a reusable vape pen or pod mod. Of course, you’ll need to refill the device every time you use up the vape juice in your tank, and you’ll need to learn how to take care of it properly. But, you’ll reduce the amount of waste you produce and save money in the long run, especially since you can buy larger 100ml e-juice bottles that are more affordable. 

So, before you stock up on Pacha mama salts 50mg vape juice, make sure you get the device that suits your needs. 

 

 


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