DISCLAIMER: CONCENTRATED NICOTINE IS AN ACUTE CONTACT POISON, AND ILLEGAL TO PURCHASE AND USE IF YOU ARE UNDER 18. THIS GUIDE IS FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY AND I HOLD NO LIABILITY FOR ANY INJURY OR DAMAGES CAUSED BY WHAT YOU DO IN YOUR OWN TIME
Before the avalanche of vape naysh and popcorn lung memes descend on the post: let me explain why I do this, and why it’s a fun hobby and probably a better idea than buying commercial e-liquid.
I used to be a half-pack a day smoker, and vaping was the only thing that helped me taper off. If used correctly, I feel like it’s a very viable strategy to remove your dependence on nicotine, but how the market is at present isn’t exactly conducive to health consciousness. The way e-liquid is being manufactured is essentially just an open case study on what substances/adulterants are harmful to inhale, and if you have a propylene glycol sensitivity there’s no way to reliably avoid it.
With a little research, and chemistry know-how, though, you can reduce the potential health implications of vaping and still start yourself on a path to being nicotine free. Anhydrous chemistry can be a bit daunting, so not many take this route.
This guide serves as a foundation to help those who’d rather know what they’re putting into their bodies, but can’t get the patch or other nicotine containing alternatives to work for them. I make no concrete claims about the benefits, perceived or otherwise, of this process.
With that out of the way, Here’s what you need to get started:
- Basic working knowledge of algebra
- amber glass containers, 4 Oz. or larger
- 60ml dropper bottles (the nicotine levels in this post are standardized to this container size, you will have to do your own stoichiometry and dilution calculations if you deviate from this, or the nicotine stock solution concentration)
- 24mg/ml 100% VG extracted nicotine (preferably natural, USP grade recommended)
- organic USP/Food Grade vegetable glycerine (as close to anhydrous as is available)
- USP/Food grade propylene glycol (optional, especially if you have a sensitivity)
- Dried organic herbs (my favorites are bourbon vanilla beans, rose petals, and elderflower/berry)
- at least 1 large syringe with wide gauge flat tip, one small (± 10ml) syringe with large gauge flat tip
- a graduated cylinder and a beaker set (plastic is fine, brewing supply outlets have the best prices, tri-pour style will reduce mess)
- a fine mesh canning funnel cover and a small neck funnel
- nitrile gloves or kitchen gloves
Nearly all of these are available on amazon, but you probably want to be choosy about your nicotine source. I recommend my freedom smokes if you live in the SE united states, they have very transparent business practices and offer extracted rather than chemically freebased or synthesized nicotine.
The total starting cost of this should be less than $100, and you can make nearly $500 worth of retail liquid or more depending on where you source your glycerin.
Vaping works like commercial fog machines, in that they heat up an anhydrous mixture of diols to their vaporization point to produce ‘vapor’ that is part gas, part atomized droplets of the component solvents. these droplets will carry any flavors, scents, dies, dopants, or adulterants onto the media that they deposit on, unlike water vapor.
the reason you can’t use commercial flavorings is that you introduce moisture or alcohol into this sytem, which raises the amount of energy required to atomize the diol vapor, or shifts the reaction in favor of vaporization. This necessitates the production of your own flavorants by taking dried plants, and making anhydrous glycerites.
This might sound complicated, but in reality it’s usually just a matter of covering some dried herbs in a mixture of vegetable glycerin an propylene glycol in the appropriate ratio and waiting a while.
For non-aromatic flavors you can speed up the process with a pressure cooker, but that’s messy and potentially dangerous, so I don’t recommend it.
Once you have your flavorants, you need to dilute them as appropriate, and then add nicotine.
This is the only potentially dangerous step, and a foundational understanding of dilution calculations is absolutely necessary to do this safely.
Luckily, commercial concentrated nicotine is always sold with a known concentration using mass/unit solution volume (mg/ml) which makes the calculation as easy as
Where C1 is stock concentration, C2 is dilute concentration, and V2 is total volume. You just need to solve for V1 (total stock added)
Because 60ml droppers, and 24mg/ml solution are industry standard and easy to find, those will serve as our knowns. So for example, If I wanted to make 6mg solution (an industry standard concentration) for a 60ml portion of liquid, it’d look like this:
24 X V1 = 6 X 60ml
6 X 60 is 360, / 24 mg/ml = 15ml of our concentrated nicotine added to 45ml of our flavor base
(I don’t recommend going higher than this concentration in any home made liquid, as manufacturing variances in your concentrated stock solution are multiplied by volume, and you may err into unsafe levels of nicotine if you go higher)
For my own tapering program, I found that reducing the concentration by half a mg/ml per 60ml bottle worked best. Yours may vary.
These are some of my tested recipes for natural flavorants, all of them are pretty simple. Not that if you have a PG sensitivity, just replace the volume of PG with VG and double the extraction time for similar results. (PG increases solubility and rate of reaction in a lot of cases for these)
If you have a strainer, shaking the dust out of the dried material will make the straining portion easier once the extraction is complete
Split 2-3 dried vanilla beans into quarters and add them to your glass bottle, trimming them to length if they’re too tall.
mix 70ml VG, 30ml PG (aliquot using syringes) in your beaker and pour into the amber bottle until full
store in a dark place at room temperature, manually agitate once a day for 1-3 weeks
You can store your liquid like this for up to 12 months, as vanilla beans don’t need straining when decanted. You can use these beans 2-3 times.
find some food grade organic rose petals/buds. Shake over a strainer to seive off the dust, break down full rosebuds into petals as needed.
add about 80g rose petals to your 4oz amber bottle, or until it’s a little more than half way full
Mix 80ml VG, 20ml PG and slowly add it to the bottle 10ml at a time, shaking in between to make sure there are no air pockets.
Store at room temperature in a dark place for 2-3 weeks. Manually agitate daily. Rose petals are generally unusable after the first extraction.
put your fine canning strainer on your thin necked funnel and place it over another amber glass bottle. (you can also use several layers of cheesecloth if you’re impatient and don’t mind some mess) and pour the rose solution through. Use a chop stick or skewer to dislodge as much of the rose material as possible from the bottle and place it in the funnel strainer.
Wait up to an hour for the gylcerin to drain off the saturated petals. If you have a cheesecloth handy, squeeze the bundle above the funnel to get any remaining glycerite out of the substrate. Your final solution should be pink and strongly rose scented.
This solution will keep 6-12 months at room temp, refrigerate in an airtight container for longer shelf life
Add 3 pods star anise, 1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns to your amber bottle
use a 90/10 mixture of VG/PG to cover
wait 1 week, maually agitating daily. You can store this solution with the plant matter in it but I recommend straining as above as needed when making your e-liquid. This is a very strong flavor and I usually dilute 1:1 with VG, but you can do this to taste.
The basics in these recipes can be applied elsewhere, just make sure to sift your dry material and avoid powdered herbs. I’ve had very good results with Ginger, Elderflower and Elderberry, Cloves, Hibiscus, Green Tea (careful, this will be caffeinated), Orange/lemon peel, Mint/Spearmint, and others.
Make sure you buy certified organic stock though, as any pesticides on your substrate will be directly dissolved and inhaled if you don’t.
Shortcuts and Safe Enhancers
not everything comes out in glycerin extraction, and sometimes you just don’t want a wait a month on an experimental flavor to see if it’s any good. Here are a few “non organic” things that you can add to give your glycerites a little more punch.
Citric Acid: I find that adding a few crystals of this to my citrus and flower glycerites really rounds out the flavor profile and helps the aromatic glycerites keep a lot longer. You don’t even have to add enough to taste, but it acts as a natural pereservative and helps the overall success of your E-Liquid solution
Menthol: Mint based flavors are very delicate, and adding them to others (a favorite of mine right now is rose/spearmint) is a balancing act if you don’t want the other flavors to overpower them. Menthol has been known to be safe to inhale for ages, and just a tad extra on your minty liquids will really help your natural extractions shine.
Eugenol: As above, but much less strongly flavored than natural cloves. If you want that clove tingle but don’t want it as the primary flavor and scent note, this is the way to go.
Dry Lemon Oil: what it says on the tin. Greatly enhances citrus extractions and prevents flavor loss over time
Making your final E-liquids
This process is simple, but vital to making a safe and palatable final product. Some of your glycerite will be wasted the fist time you try this, but that’s fine as long as you have a safe process.
Put on a set of nitrile gloves, then cover those with kitchen rubber gloves.
grab your tri-pour graduated cylinder, syringes, and 60ml bottle.
Choose your nicotine level (assuming you’re using the standard values, 15ml for 6mg, 7.5ml for 3mg, and 2.5ml for 1mg) and aliquot the appropriate volume of stock solution into the graduated cylinder, checking the level on both devices.
subtract that volume from 60ml, and then choose your flavors. If you only want 1 flavor, aliquot half that amount into your cylinder with a different clean syringe. mix with a stir bar or skewer until no phases (layers of liquid) are visible, then funnel into your 60ml dropper. Repeat this step with the second half of the solution, allowing as much liquid as possible to settle back from the side of the cylinder as possible before pouring the rest in. Optionally, calculate your solution for 70 ml instead of 60 and discard the excess to ensure even mixing.
Full mixing may take a while as your solution is thick and viscous, so be patient. If you want 2 flavors, I recommend using a 2:1 ratio with a dominant flavor to start if you haven’t dialed in your preferred mix yet.