Two UK suicides using nicotine extracted from tobacco employing instructions available on the Internet
Tobacco is one of the most easily accessible and commonly abused drugs world-wide. Nicotine, one of its principal constituents, can cause serious or fatal overdoses. Whilst the deliberate ingestion of this substance appears to be relatively rare, often the important signs of its consumption are not recognised, sometimes with fatal results. Here we describe two cases of intentional fatal ingestion of nicotine. The nicotine was extracted from tobacco using instructions available on the Internet. The first case involved a male aged 19 who died in 2008. The post-mortem blood and urine levels of nicotine were 5.5 mg/l and >80 mg/l respectively; the blood level is in line with the generally recognised fatal level of >5 mg/l. The levels of nicotine's main metabolite, cotinine, for this case were 2.5 mg/l and 7.9 mg/l for blood and urine respectively. A comparative case in 1999 involved a 32 year-old male. The level of post-mortem nicotine in his blood was 1.0 mg/l. These are believed to be the first UK suicides by nicotine using instructions from the Internet reported in the literature. Information that nicotine was the agent responsible only became apparent some time after death. There may be more deaths due to this cause that go unrecognised because quantification of nicotine and cotinine levels is not often conducted, due to the wide prevalence of smoking. It is important that all evidence at the scene of a sudden and unexplained death is carefully evaluated, including potential clues on PCs and lap-tops.