Teenagers are drinking less alcohol, smoking fewer cigarettes and trying fewer hard drugs according to a new federal survey of 8th, 10th and 12th graders. This is due to an effort in the US to discourage drug use including stricter school penalties, smoking bans, and general public awareness campaigns including lawsuits against opioid manufacturers. “There has been a whole lot of effort at the community level,” said Dr. Sion Kim Harris, a pediatrician and a director for the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research at Boston Children’s Hospital. “There are some encouraging trends.”
This is fabulous news but there are some hidden and unexpected ramifications: the uptick in daily vaping of marijuana and nicotine. Teens are vaping more marijuana and nicotine leading to lung illness and death. There is a concern in the medical community that teens have gotten the wrong message about marijuana not being harmful. “The percentage of teenagers who said they had vaped marijuana once or more over the last year essentially doubled during the past two years, rising to 7 % for 8th graders, 19.4% for 10th graders and 20.8% for 12th graders.”
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) there have been 2407 cases of hospitalizations and 52 deaths nationwide associated with vaping lung illness. Most of the patients said they vaped THC, the high-inducing ingredient in marijuana. Apparently the lungs struggle to process certain oils used in black market marijuana vaping devices. Vitamin E acetate, an ingredient in some products may be a possible cause resulting in a suppression of breathing. Many states like California, where I live have legalized the use of marijuana but regulated cannabis growers are finding competition from the distribution of black market marijuana that is less expensive and more readily available. So teens don’t know what they’re getting.
The rise in vaping among teenagers is attributed to the allure of slick electronic devices that deliver nicotine and marijuana, like the Juul device, often referred to as the iPhone of e-cigarettes. These devices are easy to conceal because they are designed to reduce smell and smoke. The problem is that using marijuana regularly can be dangerous for the adolescent brain. Dr. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), says that kids “do not realize that it is harmful to smoke marijuana regularly.” She regrets that teens are being misled on social media by what she calls, “the freedom of misinformation,” that touts marijuana as not being harmful. That is the same argument that the 28 licensed cannabis growers in my community of Carpinteria use to justify planting their crop next to the local middle school and high school.
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