Are e-cigarettes a gateway to cannabis use for teens and young adults? Yes, says new study
- The research examined marijuana use among 10- to 24-year-olds through a compilation of 21 studies from a number of Western countries
- It appears to support the theory that nicotine affects the developing brain, influencing how people respond to addictive substances
Adolescents and young adults who use electronic cigarettes are far more likely to also use marijuana, according to research released this week.
The study, published online this week in JAMA Paediatrics, said the odds of marijuana use among young people who used e-cigarettes was 3.5 times greater than among those who said they had not used e-cigarettes.
The authors, who include researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, say policymakers should pay attention to this connection.
“These findings should be taken into account in the design of public policies aiming to restrict access to minors,” the authors wrote. The studies’ results, they added, “highlight the importance of addressing the rapid increases in e-cigarette use among youths as a means to help limit marijuana use in this population.”
The authors’ review of existing research also seemed to support the theory that nicotine affects the developing brain, influencing how people respond to addictive substances. In fact, younger adolescents who vape were much more likely to use marijuana than even their somewhat older e-cigarette-using peers.
The odds of youngsters aged 12 to 17 years old using marijuana if they vaped were more than four times higher than they were in peers who did not vape. In e-cigarette users aged 18 to 24, the odds of their smoking marijuana were more than two times higher than among peers who did not use e-cigarettes.
Vaping has become a booming practice among America’s youth. E-cigarette use among US adolescents and young adults grew substantially in the last five years, the researchers noted; more than a third of high school seniors reported using e-cigarettes in the past year.
While e-cigarettes were originally marketed as an aid to help adults quit smoking traditional cigarettes or switch to a purportedly less hazardous nicotine delivery option, the JAMA Paediatrics article authors found a different outcome among young users.
When e-cigarettes are used by adolescents, the authors wrote, they are “associated with a significant increase in the odds of using cigarettes and other forms of tobacco”.
The researchers also noted that some e-cigarette liquids have been found to contain toxins. In addition, they wrote, “nicotine use, especially during adolescence, should be discouraged because of risks of several negative long-term outcomes, including a chronic decrease in attention and memorisation capacity”.