The Rising Epidemic of Teenagers Addicted to E-Cigarettes and Marijuana

woman using vape

When most people think about vaping, it’s typically about someone who’s using vaping as a crutch to stay away from cigarettes. But there’s a growing number of young people who vape, and many of them never touched a cigarette. In fact, it’s a trend that seems to be sweeping the nation. A JAMA Network study found that 1 in 11 U.S. middle and high school students have vaped marijuana.

What is vaping?

Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the vapor (aerosol) produced by an e-cigarette. E-cigarettes don’t produce smoke like cigarettes, which is one reason why people use vaping as an alternative to smoking. But the “vapor” produced by vaping isn’t actually water vapor as it seems. This is actually a common misconception. E-cigarettes produce an aerosol that consists of fine particles.

E-cigarettes are also often called vape pens, tanks, e-hookahs and electronic nicotine delivery devices (ENDS).

Most e-cigarettes contain a combination of propylene glycol or glycerol (glycerin) as a base with nicotine, marijuana or flavoring chemicals. These devices rely on battery power to heat elements that aerosolize the liquid.

According to a Bloomberg report, Juul controls 68 percent of the e-cigarette market. And a National Health Interview Survey indicates that younger adults are more likely to vape than older ones.

What is Juul?

You may have also heard vaping referred to as JUULing, especially among high schoolers. Juul is a brand of e-cigarette that has become very popular with the younger crowd.

The Juul product looks more like a flash drive than a typical e-cigarette, and you can even plug the device into a computer for charging. The Juul e-cigarette works with what they call “pod mods” that are made with tobacco. One mod pod contains the tobacco equivalent of about a pack of combustible cigarettes, and it can be consumed in about 200 puffs.

The San Francisco-based company, along with other e-cig manufacturers, are under FDA scrutiny for appearing to target teens and young adults in their marketing campaigns. As a result, each company was tasked with coming up with a plan to “address the widespread youth access and use of their products,” according to the news release.

Is vaping healthy?

When vaping was first introduced, it was known to be a healthier alternative to smoking. Today, that’s a subject of much debate. Still today, the FDA does not recommend vaping as a device to help someone quit smoking.

The problem with vaping lies in the aerosol that a person inhales. The aerosol contains particles with varying amounts of toxic chemicals that a user will then inhale directly into his or her lungs.

Because of this, vaping cannot be considered healthy. But because e-cigarette products come in various forms, sizes and flavors, the type and concentration of toxins vary greatly by brand.

E-cigarettes were introduced in 2007. They were developed as an alternative to smoking combustible cigarettes. It’s important to note that you may still be inhaling tobacco or marijuana, both addictive substances.

Dangers of teenage vaping

There are a few issues with the current trends of teens vaping. For one, vaping may increase a teenager’s likelihood of smoking combustible cigarettes later in life. And then, there’s the danger of what they’re putting inside those e-cigarettes, specifically tobacco and marijuana.

The Truth Initiative Survey found that 63 percent of young Juul users were unaware that the product always contains nicotine. Nicotine is an issue because of its link to cancer and cardiovascular disease. It’s particularly problematic for the teenage brain.

A Journal of Physiology review of available research suggests that nicotine may induce epigenetic changes that sensitize the teenage brain to other drugs and prime it for future substance abuse issues.

The teenage brain is also highly vulnerable to lasting damage from marijuana use. In the short term, marijuana can impair functions linked to attention, memory, learning and decision-making. Heavy marijuana use in adolescence is associated with poor outcomes later in life. Such negative outcomes may include poor academic performance, higher dropout rates, greater unemployment rates, increased welfare dependence and lower life satisfaction.

How vaping impacts teenage marijuana use

The problem with e-cigarettes like Juuls is that they are more discreet than combustible cigarettes. This gives kids easier access to smoke in school bathrooms and on the street. With fewer barriers, teenagers may be more likely to abuse tobacco and marijuana, which could lead to larger problems of drug addiction and rehab later in life.

If your teenager has started vaping, talk about the dangers. Don’t wait until it gets to the point where they need a marijuana detox. Vaping nicotine and/or marijuana can have negative life and health outcomes later in life, and it’s important for teens to understand the potential impacts before they abuse these drugs.

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