Vaping of Marijuana on the Rise Among Teens

More teenagers in the United States are vaping marijuana than ever before. Health and addiction experts believe vaping is more dangerous than smoking it in a joint, pipe, or bong. Between 2017 and 2019 the percentage of teens who reported using marijuana within the past month had risen from 13.9% to 15.4%. However, studies done at that same time revealed that vaping marijuana rose from 2.1% to 5.4%. Katherine Keyes, of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, said vaping seems to be replacing smoking at a fast pace. Linda Richter, vice president of prevention research and analysis at Partnership to End Addiction, blames the popularity of vaping nicotine and rapid legalization in America of marijuana for personal use for this increase.(1)

Kids are being flooded with images of marijuana vaping products everywhere, especially on social media platforms. It is easier to hide marijuana vaping because there is no odor. Its use is harder to be detected in schools, public spaces, and at home.

The wave of nicotine vaping that spread throughout middle and high schools over the past several years has increased the likelihood that kids who vape nicotine will also begin to vape marijuana. Richter said vaped products are typically seen as safer and healthier than smoked products. After all, when e-cigarettes were introduced in the marketplace, they were heralded as safer than smoking cigarettes. Unfortunately, vaping is actually quite harmful. Vaping does not involve smoke; rather, it heats THC oils into a concentrated vapor. Vaping delivers a much higher dose of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the principle psychoactive ingredient responsible for “getting high,.” and these concentrated levels are causing a high degree of addiction.

PSYCHOSIS

Mental health and substance abuse diagnoses are a major contributor to the rise in ER visits in America since 2019. Research shows a strong dose-to-response relationship between chronic use of high-potency THC and the chances of developing symptoms of psychosis.(2) Additionally, all drugs taken in excess have a direct impact on the brain reward system, which is involved in the reinforcement of behaviors and the production of memories.(3) The American Psychiatric Association has determined that psychological problems are often caused or exacerbated by psychoactive substances.(4) Bhattacharyya, Morrison, et al, believe THC can induce psychotic symptoms and anxiety. Further, in patients with schizophrenia, THC may exacerbate existing psychotic symptoms, anxiety, and memory impairment. Long-term ingestion of THC can be responsible for a risk of developing schizophrenia.

EVALI

As of January 14, 2020, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico reported an increase in patients with EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury).(6) While vaping does not involve smoke, as noted above, the liquids used in vaporizers contain potentially toxic chemicals used to produce flavoring. Teens and young adults are showing up in increasing numbers at ERs nationwide with fever, shortness of breath, abnormally rapid breathing, nausea, and diarrhea. Some are diagnosed with pneumonia. The EVALI outbreak is strongly linked to vitamin E acetate found in the majority of vaping products.(7) Understanding the long-term health consequences of EVALI will require long-term patient follow-up. It is not known whether additives other than vitamin E acetate in e-cigarette, or vaping, products might cause similar lung injury.(8)

FIND HELP NEAR YOU

The following can help you find substance abuse or other mental health services in your area: www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment. If you are in an emergency situation, people at this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: 1-800-273-TALK. Or click on: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. A step by step guide on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member on the Treatment page. Never go it alone.

Resources
(1) Amy Norton, “Big Rise in Marijuana Vaping Among U.S. Teens,” WebMD, May 20, 2022, accessed Dec. 15, 2022, https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/news/20220520/big-rise-in-marijuana-vaping-among-us-teens
(2) G.S. Wang, C. Buttorff, et al, “Impact of cannabis legalization on healthcare utilization for psychosis and schizophrenia in Colorado,” Elsevier International Journal of Drug Policy, Vol. 104, June 2022, accessed Dec. 15, 2022, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0955395922001049
(3) American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed., DSM-5 (Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2013), 481.
(4) Ibid., 483.
(5) S. Bhattacharyya, P. Morrison, et al, “Opposite Effects of Δ-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol on Human Brain Function and Psychopathology.” Neuropsychopharmacology Journal, Nov. 18, 2009, accessed Dec. 15, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2009.184
(6) V. Krishnasamy, B. Hallowell, PhD, J.Y. Ko, et al, CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Jan. 24, 2020, accessed Dec. 15, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6903e2.htm
(7) R. Adhikari, T. Koritala, et al, “EVALI—ECigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury: A Case Study,” Cureus, Feb. 2021, 10.7759/cureus.13541.
(8) V. Krishnasamy, et al, Ibid.

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