Why You Shouldn't Cut Nicotine Patches

Overdose and Poisoning

You aren't supposed to cut nicotine patches.
You aren't supposed to cut nicotine patches. The reason why isn't just a ploy for companies to make more money!. Ruth Jenkinson, Getty Images

If you've ever tried the patch to help stop smoking or get nicotine for another reason, you'll see warnings on the box, in the literature, and on the patch package warning you not to cut the patch. There isn't any explanation why, so you may wonder why there are so many warnings. Is it just a ploy by pharmaceutical companies to make more money? No. It turns out there is a good reason why you shouldn't cut the patch.

Here's the explanation. 

Why Not Cut the Patch?

The reason you shouldn't cut the patch is because it alters the time-release of nicotine due to the way the patch is constructed.

In 1984, Jed E. Rose, Ph.D., Murray E. Jarvik, M.D., Ph.D. and K. Daniel Rose conducted a study showing the transdermal nicotine patch reduced cigarette cravings in smokers. Two patents were filed for patches: one in 1985 by Frank Etscorn and another in 1988 by Rose, Murray, and Rose with The University of California. Etcsorn's patent described a backing layer with a reservoir of liquid nicotine, and a pad that controlled the release of the nicotine into the skin. A porous adhesive layer holds the patch against the skin and helps prevent moisture from washing away the ingredients. The University of California patent described a similar product. While the courts dealt with who got patent rights and who got discovery rights, the end result was the same: cutting a patch would expose the layer containing the nicotine, allowing it to leak through the cut edge.

If you cut a patch, no visible liquid will flow out, but the dosage rate will no longer be controlled. A higher dose of nicotine will be delivered early when using the cut parts of the patch. Also, if the unused portion of the patch doesn't remain on its backing, it's likely additional nicotine may migrate to the surface (or might be lost to the environment) before it is applied.

Pharmaceutical companies don't want users of their product to get sick or die, so they print a warning,

The bottom line is that you could potentially overdose on nicotine or poison yourself using a cut patch.

Safer Alternative To Cutting the Patch

One way to make a patch last longer is to save the backing that came with the patch, remove it before sleeping (which many people do anyway since nicotine can affect sleep and dreaming), return it to the backing, and reapply it the next day. There is not a lot of formal research about how much nicotine might be lost this way, but you won't run the health risk of leaking nicotine.

Cutting the Patch Anyway

If you decide to go ahead and cut a high dose patch to save money, there are a couple of methods suggested for sealing the cut edge of the patch to prevent overdose. One method is to seal the cut edge of the patch using heat, like with heated scissors or a hot blade. It's unknown whether this actually works. Another method, supposedly suggested by a pharmacist, is to seal the cut edge using tape so extra nicotine won't reach the skin. The cut portion of the unused portion of the patch should also be sealed and the patch should be kept on its backing until use.

However, talk to your own pharmacist or doctor before trying either method or experimenting on your own.

References

Rose, J. E.; Jarvik, M. E.; Rose, K. D. (1984). "Transdermal administration of nicotine". Drug and alcohol dependence 13 (3): 209–213.

Rose, J. E.; Herskovic, J. E.; Trilling, Y.; Jarvik, M. E. (1985). "Transdermal nicotine reduces cigarette craving and nicotine preference". Clinical pharmacology and therapeutics 38 (4): 450–456.

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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Why You Shouldn't Cut Nicotine Patches." ThoughtCo, Mar. 26, 2017, thoughtco.com/why-you-shouldnt-cut-nicotine-patches-608419. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2017, March 26). Why You Shouldn't Cut Nicotine Patches. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/why-you-shouldnt-cut-nicotine-patches-608419 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Why You Shouldn't Cut Nicotine Patches." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/why-you-shouldnt-cut-nicotine-patches-608419 (accessed December 12, 2017).