E-cigarettes and vaping devices made news several times last year as deaths caused by vaping-related illness raised a new round of questions about the safety of this trend.
Now, a new survey shows that vaping marijuana is rising among teens — and at record rates. As a result, the medical community is becoming increasingly concerned that as usage soars it could have significant effects on teen health.
What is vaping?
Vaping is when you inhale the vapor produced by an electronic device called an e-cigarette or vape. Inside each vape is a pod of liquid. This liquid containschemicals like nicotine or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the primary psychoactive phytocannabinoid in cannabis — suspended in oil or water. The device exposes this liquid to a heating element, warming it until it produces vapor.
The vape pods or cartridges, which contain the liquid, come in flavors, such ascrème brûlée, mango and fruit medley, and they almost always include a high dose of nicotine or THC.
For example, JUUL is still one of the most popular vaping devices on the market. A single JUUL pod contains about the same amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes.
The health impacts of vapes aren't fully known yet. However, most medical providers are recommending caution, especially in the wake of several reported deaths caused by vaping-related illness. The FDA has also strongly cautioned consumers against using vape products that contain THC, as these products often also contain Vitamin E acetate, which has been found to interfere with normal lung function.
While experts have found e-cigarettesto potentially benefit “traditional” smokers who want to quit or have more control over nicotine dosage, they do not recommend them for use by young people or non-smokers.
Survey shows major increase in teens vaping marijuana
The 2019 self-report Monitoring the Future survey —is given annually to students to measure teen drug use and attitudes Over 42,500 students around the country took part in the most recent survey, with participants spanning grades 8, 10 and 12.Nearly 21% of students said they had vaped marijuana at least once in 2019 — twice the rate compared to the past year.
The percentage of students who reported vaping marijuana at least once a month and at least once a day had also increased considerably.The jump in cannabis vaping rates was the second-highest on record, only behind a historic increase between 2017 and 2018. The survey also showed a rise in nicotine-based vaping among teens. Despite the growing popularity of cannabis, nicotine vaping continues to remain more popular.
At the same time, rates of cigarette use among teens continue to drop steadily — suggesting that vaping is replacing smoking for most teens. Experts can't say for sure what is driving the change, but they do have a few possible theories. One of the most popular is that vaping devices have become popular among students because they're easier to hide and use discreetly compared to traditional cigarettes.
The medical community did identify some “good news” amongst the statistics. The report showed that underage drinking continues to drop, hitting its lowest rate over the last 10 years. Usage rates of prescription drugs, like Oxycontin (oxycodone) and Vicodin (hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen), also continued to decline over the past year.
Growing interest in cannabis vaping – possible consequences
Products containing THC were those thought to be responsible for the vaping-related illnesses reported last year.
According to the last counts by the CDC, more than 2,700 people have been hospitalized as a result of vaping-related illnesses, and 60 have died.If teens use THC-containing products at a growing rate, it could result in an increasing number of cases of vaping-related health issues.
Medical professionals will need to be prepared to talk with younger patients about the dangers of THC-containing products, as well as be prepared for, and able to identify and treat related diseases.
In general, doctors who haven't traditionally worked with addicted patients may need to learn more about recognizing and treating addiction, especially dependence upon nicotine and THC. Substance abuse rates can differ from population to population, and patients may be less likely to seek help depending on a variety of different factors — like the stigma against addiction, a fear of consequences and financial worries.
For example, the overall ratio of men to women in federally funded treatment plans is about two to one — meaning doctors may need to pay closer attention to individual patients to ensure they are able to notice telltale signs of addiction.
Doctors and clinicians working with teens will also need to be aware that declining rates of cigarette use may not signify a decreasing consumption of THC and nicotine. Instead, teens may be forgoing cigarettes in favor of vapes.
Responding to the growing use of THC vape products
E-cigarettes represent a growing source of concern for both federal regulators and medical professionals, both of whom believe there is likely a connection between rising consumption of products containing THC and vape-related illness.
Current statistics show that more teens are using THC vape products than ever before, and that usage rates are growing at a record pace.In the future, medical professionals must respond to the growing use of THC, and nicotine-based, vape products in the population.
Teens may be more likely to suffer from vape-related illness and nicotine or THC dependence than adults. If they haven't already, medical professionals working with teens will need to learn the signs of both addiction and vape-related illness and how best to treat these conditions.