Adults know that vaping is cool. And as with other fun, cool, intoxicating adult activities, teens are getting in on the action. But since the things we do in our teen years shape the adults we become, doctors and public health researchers are worried about the rise in teen e-cigarette use, especially when it comes to teens who are vaping weed. A new national survey estimates that over 2 million middle school and high school students vaped marijuana or other cannabis products in 2016.
In a paper published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, a team of researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that about 1 in 11 US students between 6th and 12th grades had used cannabis products in e-cigarettes in 2016. This comes out to about 1.7 million high-schoolers and 425,000 middle-schoolers.
The researchers also broke down the numbers for just the students who have used e-cigarettes: One-third of high school e-cigarette users reported that they’d consumed marijuana products with the devices, and one-fourth of middle school e-cigarette users reported that they’d vaped marijuana products.
Compared to the numbers of teens who are using marijuana in general, these numbers are not that shocking. According to 2017 data from the National Institutes of Health, almost 40 percent of 12th-graders, over 20 percent of 10th-graders, and around 10 percent of 8th-graders used marijuana in 2017. But because of the Food and Drug Administration’s concerns over how e-cigarette use has become an epidemic, especially in light of the meteoric rise in popularity of pod-based products like those sold by Juul, the new study’s findings are raising eyebrows among public health researchers who are concerned about e-cigarettes.
“This high rate of cannabis use in e-cigarettes is a public health concern,” Katrina Trivers, Ph.D., M.S.P.H., lead epidemiologist in the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, told CNN. “Any form of tobacco product use is unsafe among youth, irrespective of whether it’s smoked, smokeless, or electronic.”
Trivers’ analysis fails to make a distinction between cannabis and tobacco e-cigarette products, though. This distinction is crucial in light of the steady drop in the popularity of tobacco and nicotine products among young people over the past two decades. Sure, teens may be getting high, but they’re less and less interested in smoking cigarettes.
That being said, while the concern that vaping can lead to cigarette smoking may not be as significant anymore, it is true that e-cigarette use carries some well-documented health risks all on its own. Regardless, while there may be some common elements between nicotine and marijuana e-cigarette use, it’s not particularly helpful for the CDC to talk about these two issues like they’re the same thing.
Of course, there is legitimate cause for concern when young people are using drugs, but as far as the cognitive risks posed by marijuana use in young people, a study published this April in JAMA Psychiatry showed that marijuana use has a minimal negative cognitive impact on young brains.
So is this latest study cause for concern? Maybe. But is it time to panic about kids vaping weed? Probably not. At least they’re not smoking it out of plastic bottles.