Vaping is now so commonplace that we’ve stopped questioning its safety. It feels benign. But, is it really? Vaping is mainly used by young teens through late twenties, and occasionally by older adults looking to quit smoking. It’s a delivery system for nicotine and marijuana. And, while it may be less carcinogenic than cigarettes, does that make it safe? What is vaping exactly?
Vaping essentially consists of inhaling a fatty liquid which is a concoction of several substances, using handheld electronic devices like E cigarettes or vaping pens. The term “vaping” is commonly mistaken for “water vapor“- but it’s anything but. The mixture is super heated to vaporize substances, including either nicotine and marijuana, along with the petroleum distillate required to produce the oil.
Transforming liquid, nicotine and forms of marijuana into a liquid mixed with these distillates become lethal to body systems. Cigarettes and marijuana have previously been lit and inhaled, generating smoke. Vaping gives the impression of being hidden, allowing the user to feel more at ease.
Vaping was initially promoted as a way to wean people out of their nicotine dependency, and gradually reducing their intake, while mitigating the carcinogenic effects associated with smoking. However, with the legislation legalizing marijuana, and its promotion through social media, vaping has become “cool“. Several of my young patients, have been excluded from groups of peers for not vaping.
Vaping has now evolved into lure for a demographic it was never intended for: our young people.
A recent study found that one in four Canadian high school students vape regularly. Several of my patients begin vaping from the time they wake up in the morning until they go to bed at night intermittently.
What are the physical risks? Vaping nicotine in this frequent a manner can cause what physicians and researchers call “popcorn lung“- a condition observed in microwave popcorn factory workers expose to a chemical called diacetyl, inflaming and damaging small airways in the lungs. This leads to the area of gas exchange, the alveoli, being damaged and stretched to a point where airways are choked off, unable to ventilate, and essentially creating dead spaces in lungs.
In addition, vaping has become the most popular way to ingest THC. With the legalization of cannabis, big business has been in a “race to the top“. That is, distilling marijuana in its various forms until it consists of 80 to 90% THC and even higher.
I am unclear about why the health benefits of this are not being widely discussed. The use of THC in a regular way is extraordinarily toxic to the developing brain of our preteen and teenaged children. I have had to hospitalize several patients who have presented with paranoid disorder, psychosis, mania, and suicidality because of the cannabis they are ingesting.
Most recently, a patient of mine who has been a heavy cannabis user [name and identity withheld] scored 12 IQ points lower on neuropsychological testing, compared to pre-heavy THC use. The testing also revealed widespread damage to the frontal and temporal lobes .
Her THC use exploded when she began to use her vape pen for THC 24/7. Now, following hospitalization for what appeared to be a schizophrenic psychotic break, her thinking has been severely compromised-being unable to perform tasks and functions related not only to her work, but to every day life. In addition, this overuse of THC has inhibited dopamine receptors in the sub-cortex. Drive, energy, and motivation have also been lost.
Although much more research needs to be done on the neurotoxic effects of THC, and the pulmonary effects of vaping nicotine, what is now being seen clinically on a regular basis, cannot be argued. There is a lot wrong with Vaping - we’re just not talking about it yet.