Teen Vaping and Marijuana Use: What’s The Connection?

A recent study linked vaping to an increase in likelihood of marijuana use among teens. The researchers analyzed data from studies involving both vaping and marijuana to analyze their relationship. They cannot pinpoint the root cause of the effect, but adolescents who vaped were 3.5 times as likely to smoke marijuana.

Theories around the cause look toward the developing brains of the adolescents and young adults. The brain ceases development in the mid 20s for most people, which means that, until that point, the brain is sensitive to chemical changes. The researchers believe that when they vape, teens “rewire” their brain to seek out similar thrilling, rewarding sensations. The effect appeared stronger in the adolescent age group (12-17) than the young adult (18-24). The older the person, the more developed the brain, which could explain the variability in response.

Why Does It Matter?

Studies reveal that frequent and long-term use of marijuana can impact a teen’s cognition and life in serious ways. Teens with mental health issues and declining school performance show a high rate of marijuana use. Heavy marijuana use has also been linked to decreases in cognitive ability, especially after heavy use in adolescence. Problem solving, memory, and learning can all suffer in someone who regularly.

Legal or otherwise, using any substance carries inherent risks. Once old enough to drive, teens who regularly use marijuana are at a higher risk of driving while intoxicated. While common stereotypes may downplay the danger of driving high, studies show that any substance impacting reaction time, concentration, and coordination are unsafe to use while driving.

Another substance abuse issue facing 1 out of 6 teens who use pot is addiction. While it may not be chemically addictive in the same way as nicotine or alcohol, frequent, habitual use that obstructs normal social or health related functions is a sign that someone is addicted.

While marijuana may not be very chemically addictive, vaping almost always involves nicotine, which is known as one of the most addictive substances humans consume. When nicotine is regularly ingested during development, it can cause damage to parts of the brain that govern attention, learning, and impulse control. E-cigarette’s effects on the body aren’t fully known, because they’re a relatively new product.

The term “vaping” refers to the water vapor that’s created by the e-cigarette, but that name obscures the fact that other things come with the water vapor. Nicotine is the primary product being carried into the lungs, ultrafine particles can be dislodged from the e-cigarette and deposited into the lungs, and even though there are less than cigarettes, carcinogenic chemicals are part of the vapor as well.

Growth Of Vaping And Marijuana Use

As marijuana is legalized in more states, many researchers fear the link between vaping and using marijuana could create harmful trends in young Americans. Vaping, especially JUULs, are wildly popular among middle and high school students, which causes problems on its own, but reducing the barriers to accessing marijuana could exacerbate this issue.

Vaping among students has become incredibly popular in recent years. An annual study in 2017 found that 28% of students had vaped within the last year and the 2018 survey found the number had jumped to 37%. The same study found that the number of eighth and tenth graders reported they could easily obtain a vape increased 7.1%. As both of these products grow and reach more people, their interaction will become increasingly important and meta-analyses like this one are important for exploring the consequences.

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Michael Muldoon

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  • Michael Muldoon earned a B.A. in Media Studies from Penn State University, but instead of shifting into an academic career in social science, he has decided to put his skills to work in the pursuit of helping those struggling with addiction.

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