Teenagers and young adults who are vaping are more likely to also use marijuana, says a new analysis by a researcher now working at CHU Sainte-Justine.
The meta-analysis of Dr. Nicholas Chadi, which was published Monday by the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, reveals a propensity of three to four times higher for young people to consume (or to have consumed) of cannabis among those who have used vaping.
The risk of marijuana use was higher among adolescents aged 12 to 17 who were vaping than among young adults aged 18 to 24 years.
This is an important find for us. The risk is higher in both subgroups, but is almost twice as high among the youngest.
Nicholas Chadi, pediatrician specialized in addiction and adolescent medicine
Conducted within his former affiliation – and not at CHU Sainte-Justine – when he was the first pediatrician in North America to do his pediatric addiction internship at the Boston Children’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School, the meta-analysis Between Electronic Cigarette Use and Marijuana Use Among Adolescents and Young Adults Association focused on 21 studies involving nearly 130,000 participants.
Susceptibility of the brain
The results of this study are consistent with current medical knowledge that a younger, less developed brain is more vulnerable to substance use and addiction.
Nicotine and marijuana both affect the neural pathways associated with pleasure and reward. Both substances may influence the long-term sensitivity of the brain to other psychoactive substances and toxicophilic behaviors during adulthood.
The younger you are, the more your brain is likely to become addicted to substances, so the risk of nicotine use or vaping is even greater among younger teens.
This meta-analysis, which would be the first published in the scientific literature to associate cannabis and vaping, does not allow us to conclude that vaping leads directly to marijuana, but the situation is beginning to become clearer.
We can not prove a causal link. On the other hand, when we have a large number of studies that show an association in the same direction, and we see that the association is maintained in longitudinal studies and cross-sectional studies, we have a good reason to think that exposure to vaping is part of the cause of marijuana initiation.
The most robust association was found in younger subjects who combined vaping with tobacco or alcohol use. It is not impossible that they are young people who are more likely to use substances, but Dr. Chadi assures that the factors that would go in that direction – such as substance abuse or mental health problems – have been controlled.
A 2012 meta-analysis of 24 studies reported a strong association between youth smoking and current or future marijuana use.
Popularity of vaping
“Currently, vaping rates are exploding among young people in Canada and the United States; it’s something happening around the planet, warned Dr. Chadi. The perception of risk concerning the electronic cigarette is not there. ”
A study like this one, he adds, shows that nicotine vaping is just as dangerous or even more dangerous than nicotine in traditional cigarettes when it comes to adolescents – and in this case, especially young teenagers.
This is very important from a public health point of view, since it reinforces the message that vapers are not at all a tool for promoting adolescent health and, on the contrary, it can increase the problems of dependence and addiction among these young people.
“Vape is often misunderstood as a trivial and risk-free activity. However, other studies have shown in adolescents that vapers increase the risk of using traditional cigarettes, “says Dr. Chadi.
“Now we realize that the vast majority of young people who vapotent would probably never have touched traditional cigarettes or other drugs,” he said.
These devices are so catchy and well done for young people that young people fall into the trap; they become addicted and look for other sources of nicotine and other drugs.
Both nicotine and marijuana are addictive, but their association makes it even more difficult for young people to give up one or the other.
We are entering a kind of spiral where the perception of risk is very low. It tastes sweet or jujubes, and we realize a few years later that we can not stop.
“An addiction to the electronic cigarette is not funny; it can really take over their school activities or their hobbies, because every half-hour or hour, they have to vapot, and it becomes very annoying,” he concludes.
Peter Beaumont is a senior reporter on the Guardian’s Global Development desk. He has reported extensively from conflict zones including Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East and is the author of The Secret Life of War: Journeys Through Modern Conflict. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org