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Vaping and Serotonin Levels: What’s the Connection?

June 06, 2022

The physical effects produced by vaping are often a heated topic of debate, but the effect it may have on your mental health is often left out. Nicotine addiction is a point of concern for mental health, as chronic nicotine exposure can have serious long-term side effects in young adults.

Using an e-cig may be safer than smoking tobacco cigarettes or conventional cigarettes for physical health, but that doesn't mean it is an entirely harmless form of nicotine delivery. In this post, we'll be exploring the role e-cig vapor inhalation and exposure to nicotine can have on your serotonin levels.

Does Nicotine Alter Serotonin Concentrations?

Any addiction, such as alcohol and nicotine addictions, has negative impacts on your physical and mental health.

It is already well known that smoking cigarettes and the inhalation of conventional tobacco cigarette smoke can severely damage your lungs, but is swapping it for e-cigarettes the solution? Recent studies into how vaping affects serotonin receptors are seeking to answer just that.

Serotonin is a chemical produced by nerve cells and essentially works to balance your mood. It is primarily found in the digestive system but is also present in your blood and throughout the central nervous system. It's essential to maintain consistent serotonin levels as it stabilizes many of your body's key functions.

Nicotine affects your serotonin levels and production. It binds to receptors known as nicotinic cholinergic synaptic mechanisms in the brain. In doing so, it releases numerous neurotransmitters, affecting norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin levels. Smoking can lead to increased depression and other mental health effects resulting from impacted serotonin levels.

If your vape contains nicotine, then there will be a knock-on effect. The nicotine concentration in the vape will directly relate to the extent your serotonin levels are affected.

Persistent nicotine exposure results in the release of monoamine oxidase, which is the enzyme responsible for breaking down serotonin and dopamine. The release of concentrated "feel good" hormones essentially makes products with nicotine so addictive and can decrease the efficiency of smoking cessation.

However, there is no evidence suggesting that cig vapor exposure from electronic cigarette inhalation can stimulate serotonin receptors with long-term damage.

Excess production of serotonin can lead to a variety of adverse side effects and falls under the diagnosis of serotonin syndrome. Symptoms include shivering, diarrhea, muscle rigidity, and even seizures.

For serotonin levels to reach severe heights, it is usually in response to an overdose of particular medications. The user may require chronic nicotine treatment, among other solutions, to manage this addiction.

Nicotine Induced Dopamine Elevations

It isn't just serotonin that is affected, but also dopamine concentrations. When your body fails to inhibit dopamine release, various changes occur throughout your body. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Heightened anxiety
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Increased stress
  • Increased energy levels

It can also lead to heightened aggression due to irritability. The difficulty arises from the pleasurable experience of nicotine-induced dopamine production. People return to the source despite the adverse side effects. E-cigarettes are a popular nicotine delivery device for this. The effect on your brain's neurotransmitters can be significant, even in smaller doses.

Electronic Cigarette Nicotine Concentration

The nicotine concentration in e-cigarettes varies enormously between differing products. Four distinct amounts are usually available:

  • 0mg
  • 3mg
  • 6mg
  • 12mg

Primarily, higher dosages are sought-after by those switching from traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes intending to quit smoking. If you don't experience withdrawal symptoms and have not already experienced nicotine exposure, you should go for the 0mg dose in your first vape. Nicotine induces strong feelings of addiction, ultimately altering serotonin concentrations in your brain. It can affect your mental health and even result in physical side effects.

What Are Neuronal Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors?

Sometimes also known as nAChRs, these receptors are predominantly found in the central and peripheral nervous systems but can also be present in muscles and brain tissue. Nicotine stimulates nAChRs when consumed via e-cigarettes or other sources.

E-cigarette vapour containing nicotine will cause a response from your nAChRs, ultimately affecting your mental and physical health.

This impact isn't always negative, given that the e-cig vapor-induced dopamine rush is what makes it desirable in the first place. However, it's essential to be aware of the risks and manage your dose accordingly.

What Happens When an E-Cigarette Activates Nicotine Dependence Pathways?

The extent of dependence largely correlates with the dosage. Research has been ongoing into whether e-cigarettes affect the body differently than traditional cigarettes. []

Initial findings indicated decreased dopamine and serotonin concentrations but increased glutamate concentrations. Ultimately, e-cigarette use can lead to dependency on nicotine though perhaps not to the same extent as conventional cigarettes.


The connection between vaping and serotonin broadly relates to the nicotine content found in your e-cigarette. Whenever you consume high doses of nicotine, you risk addiction and potentially adverse side effects. However, most vape devices stay within safe ranges. Always make sure you're purchasing from a reliable source to ensure safe and regulated nicotine levels.

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