Is Vaping a Gateway Drug for Teens?

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Vaping has become more and more popular among teens and adults. First advertised as a safe substitute for smoking, vaping has since rapidly grown in popularity. Moreover, vaping is used not just for smoking nicotine, but also for THC (marijuana).

Today, an increasing number of teens are obtaining access to vaping devices. New research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that the number of teens vaping nicotine has doubled since 2017. And the number of teens vaping marijuana is also on the rise.

What Is a Gateway Drug?

A gateway drug is any habit-forming substance that makes it easier for someone to form more severe and dangerous habits, such as using hard drugs or abusing alcohol. Teens rarely begin experimenting with drugs by using hard drugs such as cocaine or heroin. More often, they start with nicotine or marijuana.

When it comes to vaping, many teens perceive it as safer than smoking cigarettes. Teens are unaware of the high level of nicotine within vape juice, and therefore are not aware of the higher danger of addiction with vaping. Furthermore, vaping companies develop flavors that appeal specifically to teens, making vaping seem more enticing and less threatening.

In a study performed at Columbia University by Dr. Eric Kandels, with the support of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, researchers found that mice who consumed nicotine were much more likely to partake in cocaine than mice who did not consume nicotine. Dr. Kandels believes that these results also apply to humans. The study also cited findings that 90 percent of cocaine users between the ages of 18 and 34 started smoking before they began using cocaine.

THC Vaping

As vaping rose in popularity, teens replaced nicotine with THC (the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana). Many teens find vaping THC preferable to smoking the plant because it is more discreet and therefore easier to hide from parents. In addition, it is often stronger when inhaled this way. According to one study, the percentage of high school seniors who vape marijuana increased from 7.5 to 14 percent between 2018 and 2019.

When we hear the words “gateway drug,” we often think of marijuana. Marijuana acts as a gateway drug in two ways. The first is that using marijuana may make teens curious about the effects produced by other drugs, or eliminate their apprehension about trying harder drugs. Secondly, marijuana is potent and euphoric when first used; however, users quickly build tolerance to the drug. As a result, they may be more prone to experiment with other, more dangerous drugs to achieve the effect previously produced by marijuana.

Why Is Vaping So Popular?

There is no doubt that vaping is rising in popularity. Between 2010 and 2018, the number of high school students using e-cigarettes skyrocketed from 1.5 percent to 26.7 percent. Therefore, 4.9 million middle and high school students were nicotine users in 2018.

Why is vaping so popular among teens and young adults? There are several reasons:

  1. Teens see friends and family members use them.
  2. Flavors such as mint, candy, and mango appeal to teens.
  3. Young people believe that vaping products are safer than other forms of nicotine consumption, such as cigarettes. While vaping aerosol doesn’t include all the contaminants in tobacco smoke, it does contain many dangerous chemicals (see below).
  4. Vaping is easier to hide from parents than smoking. Vaping doesn’t leave clothes and hands smelling like cigarette smoke. In addition, many vapes are designed to be discreet. For example, Juul designers wanted to make their product appear as if it was a flash drive.
  5. Vaping products are cheaper and easier to acquire than traditional tobacco products.

In short, vaping and vaping accessories are marketed to attract young adults, and the research shows that it’s working.

Is Vaping Dangerous?

According to the CDC’s vaping health statistics, vaping caused a recent outbreak in E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI). As of early 2020, there were 2,807 reported cases of EVALI in the United States, including 68 deaths. The CDC believes that EVALI was caused by vitamin-E acetates, found in e-cigarettes with THC as well as those containing nicotine.

Many people think the smoke produced by vaping is harmless water vapor. In fact, vape “smoke” contains:

  • Nicotine
  • Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs
  • Dangerous flavoring chemicals such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to lung disease
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Cancer-causing chemicals
  • Heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, and even lead.

In short, vaping is by no means safe, especially for young people. Nicotine, THC and marijuana vaping can cause addiction and chronic illness. And yet, teens are vaping more and more.

Don’t be afraid to sit down with your teen and let them know the health risks and potential dangers that come with vaping. Reach out to us today to find out more about how we can help you start that conversation.