Teenagers smoking cannabis is not a new phenomenon for the drug has recreationally been used for years. Recently, a growing number of teens are vaping cannabis, a form of smoking that may be more harmful and addictive than the ‘traditional’ way of consuming the drug, say specialists from United Recovery California.

E-cigarettes and vaping products were originally designed to help people who wanted to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes. However, with the cannabis business booming, the devices have been innovatively reshaped to change the way that people consume the drug.

Research published by JAMA Pediatrics found that the number of school-aged teenagers partaking in cannabis vaping had doubled over the past seven years. The researchers analyzed 17 studies that have been conducted since 2003 throughout Canada and the United States. Data analysis concerning almost 200,000 teenagers found that cannabis vaping had doubled in use from 2013 to 2020.

While a sharp increase in vaping marijuana had been noted, the number of students smoking in the more traditional style had stayed pretty steady. With clear suggestions that vaping is now replacing smoking, we can’t help but wonder…Why the sudden increase in cannabis vaping?

The Rise of Vaping Products

With the legalization of cannabis in the state of California, the drug has become more readily accessible to underage teens for recreational use. While society isn’t blind to the fact that many adolescents partake in smoking cannabis, the increase in those vaping is surprising. A 2018 National Survey found that more than three million middle and high school students reported that they were currently vaping.

Quickly catching on to the rise of vaping amongst teens, companies have even started to advertise their vaping products on social media platforms, such as Instagram. A study conducted by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health explored the use of Instagram by vaporizer brands when attempting to market their products.

The findings suggest that the companies’ obvious target market was teenagers. This was evident through the visuals used and social media influencers utilized as top promotional strategies. However, there are many other cultural and social factors that contribute to the rise of cannabis vaping.

Linda Richter, Vice President of Prevention Research and Analysis for the non-profit Partnership to End Addiction said:

“Vaped products are typically seen as safer and healthier than smoked products because when e-cigarettes were originally introduced to the market, they were advertised as safer alternatives to cigarette smoking.”

However, this thought process is far from true and vaping marijuana can cause a user to consume a much higher dose of THC than smoking – THC being the component found in cannabis that induces the sensations of being ‘high’.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opting for cannabis-based vaping extracts, resins, or oils instead of dried cannabis is a potentially dangerous option as the extracts used within the vape contain 3 to 5 times more THC than the plant itself.

The Dangers of Vaping Cannabis

Smoking marijuana, in any shape or form, as a teenager, is particularly concerning to health experts as it affects an adolescent’s brain differently. Our brains are not fully developed until our mid-20s and smoking cannabis can have serious detrimental effects if an individual is regularly smoking cannabis. These include memory issues, problem-solving skills, the ability to pay attention, or poor coordination.

The heavy use of cannabis by teenagers has also been linked to a decline in school performance and participation. Multiple studies have shown that the drug is associated with a reduced cognitive function, with one particular study finding that regular cannabis use can cause teenagers to lose on average 5.8 IQ points by the time their brain has fully developed.

Similar to other substances, excessive use of cannabis can lead to dependence and eventually develop into an addiction. If a person is dependent on the drug, then they will experience:

· Irritability

· Gentleness

· Sleep difficulties

· Lack of appetite

· Mood changes

The National Institute on Drug Abuse also suggested that people using marijuana before the age of 18 are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop an addiction than adults. In fact, 50% of children, aged 12-17, who are receiving substance abuse disorder treatment are dealing with a marijuana use disorder.

Alongside the risk of addiction and long-term developmental side effects, experts are worried about the health issues and injuries related to vaping. A recent study found that teens who were vaping marijuana reported having worrisome pulmonary symptoms compared to those who were smoking in the more traditional way. They found that they were twice as likely to report ‘wheezing or whistling’ in their chest, often disturbing sleep, as well as a dry cough when exercising.

Vaping cannabis has been closely linked with a newly identified lung disease called EVALI, short for e-cigarette or vaping product use associated with lung injury. The disease was first identified in 2019 when there was an increase in the number of young, healthy teenagers being hospitalized for severe, and in some cases, fatal lung infections.

The condition is thought to be induced by a vitamin E acetate that is added to vaping products to dilute the oil that is smoked. Unfortunately, as of February 2020, 68 deaths due to EVALI have been confirmed and 84% of these cases were associated with cannabis vaping products.

What Parents Can Do

With young people vaping or smoking marijuana now more than ever, as a parent, you may be concerned about your child’s health, and you may be worrying about what you can do to deal with the issue at hand. The most important thing is to engage in open and honest conversations with your child about marijuana. This ensures that they are able to speak freely about their use and you are able to educate them about the potential risks and dangers.

If you believe your child has a substance abuse disorder, there are a multitude of treatment options available to guide you and your child in working towards recovery. The first step is to consult with a professional for recommendations. Maybe they will suggest support groups or further resources, or depending on the severity of the cannabis use, they may recommend substance abuse disorder treatment. Either way, help is always available.