Smoking trends are changing at a rapid pace, especially among the teen population. Even though smoking and teen drug use looks a little different these days, the risks are still there. I often work with teens who seem to think these new devices are better than smoking an actual cigarette, but is that true? “It doesn’t smell, it tastes good and smells good, it’s better for you, it’s electronic so it doesn’t go to your lungs.” Those are some of the phrases I often hear. To take this e-cigarette trend a step further, they are now being filled with marijuana. What does all of this mean? Here’s some information that may be helpful in terms of understanding “vape talk,” and knowing how to talk to your teen about this phenomenon.
E-cigarettes are also often referred to as “vapes,” “vape pens,” “hookahs,” “e-cigs,” and “Juuls.” They are battery-operated devices that deliver nicotine and other additives through inhaling. There are now increased reports that teens are vaping marijuana through these devices as well. Vaping THC oil (THC is the chemical in marijuana that gives the mind-altering effects) is odorless, which is very different from smoking marijuana through a joint, pipe, or blunt.
“Juuling” came from the Juul electronic cigarette company. Juuls look just like a USB flash drive, and there’s cartridges called pods that go into them that contain liquid nicotine. Since 2015, these have become the most popular way to vape. They can be charged like a phone or laptop, and teens are now switching out the liquid nicotine for liquid marijuana. They are often so small that they fit in the palm of your hand, so kids often hold them in their sleeves, tuck it in their backpacks, and take “bathroom breaks” at school during classes.
This refers to the liquid nicotine that can come in a variety of flavors (some of the flavors literally sound like ice cream flavors – bubble gum, chocolate, vanilla, and more!). There’s actually over 500 flavors available!
What We Know
- There’s been an upward trend of vaping for ages 12-17 since 2011.
- According to the US surgeon general, there has been a 900% increase in e-cigarette use by high school students from 2001-2015, and the numbers are continuing to rise.
- Nicotine is addictive and bad for your health. The earlier kids start using, the harder it is to stop.
- The brain is continually developing and maturing during the adolescent years, and nicotine negatively alters that development.
- Cravings occur almost immediately when nicotine reaches the brain and gets the pleasure and reward centers very excited, which can result in addiction.
- When teen drug use involves vaping marijuana, there tends to be a higher consumption of THC, especially for inexperienced smokers, so the “high” is intensified.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control, marijuana use interferes with brain development and can cause slower learning, short-term memory loss, and lung damage.
- There are aerosol components, more than forty-two chemicals reported to be found in the vaping products, which is the piece that is reported to be most harmful.
- Even though federal regulations make it illegal for kids under the age of 18 to be able to purchase e-cigarettes, they can be purchased online, which makes it easier for under-aged kids to get these products.
- Second hand smoke from vaping exists.
What We Don’t Know
- We still do not know the long term health effects of e-cigarettes, but there is an increase in research studies being conducted. To read about some of the recent studies that are available regarding the current trends of teen drug use and vaping, you can go the American Medical Association’s website to access online journals.
- When using THC in e-cigarettes, it is unknown as to how much THC is being consumed.
- Much of the research available on the cognitive effects of marijuana tend to focus on heavy users, so it is still unclear as to whether or not there is long-term brain damage, and if there’s a level of usage that is considered to be safe.
- Many people say that e-cigarettes are a safer way to smoke, and that it even helps people stop smoking cigarettes. Again, there is not enough information available to confirm or deny this, but from what’s currently available, it is said to be that they aren’t as harmful, but still harmful.
Tips for Parents
- Educate yourself and do the research to know and understand what information is available about vaping. Hopefully this blog will be a great start and guide you in the right direction. For more information, you can access the website mentioned above by the American Medical Association, or go to the Surgeon General’s website.
- Learn about the side effects of marijuana since there has been an increase in vaping THC oil in vape pens. If you suspect that your teen is using marijuana and also recognizing some of the common side effects in your teen, it may be time to have a talk.
- When talking to your teen about teen drug use and vaping, avoid lecturing and work towards an open dialogue where you are patient and ready to listen without criticism. Keep the lines of communication open and work towards talking “with” your teen and not “at” your teen.
- If you are unsure on whether or not your teen is vaping, approach them with curiosity. “What’s your take on vaping?” or “Do a lot of kids at your school vape?” or “How are teens even getting vape pens being underage?”
- If you are the type of parent who feels that there needs to be set rules and consequences around vaping, let them know that it is their choice, but that there will be consequences for their choices.
If you are concerned that your teen may be struggling with addiction, reach out for help. You can start with contacting your child’s pediatrician, or go directly to an addiction specialist. You can also contact SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357).