While electronic cigarettes are often marketed as aids to help people quit smoking, a new study suggests that some people are using the devices to vaporize cannabis instead of nicotine.
Researchers from Yale University in New Haven, CT, found that almost 1 in 5 high school students surveyed in their study reported using electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) to vaporize cannabis or byproducts of the drug such as hash oil.
“This is a relatively novel way of using marijuana, and kids are using it at a fairly high rate,” reports lead author Meghan E. Morean, now an assistant professor of psychology at Oberlin College, OH.
The study, published in Pediatrics, anonymously surveyed a total of 3,847 students from five high schools in Connecticut.
E-cigarettes are becoming more and more popular among high school students. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014.
At present, around 2 million students are estimated to use e-cigarettes. In the new study, the researchers found that 27.9% of high school students participating in the study reported using the devices.
A less conspicuous way of using cannabis
Usually, e-cigarettes work by vaporizing a liquid nicotine solution that is contained within a cartridge inside the device with a battery-powered atomizer.
Fast facts about e-cigarettes
- The e-cigarette was invented in 2003
- E-cigarettes do not contain the tobacco or tar that traditional cigarettes do
- Only e-cigarettes marketed for therapeutic purposes are currently regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
However, the nicotine solution can be replaced with cannabis products such as hash oil, dried cannabis and wax infused with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the active ingredient in cannabis.
Of the sample of students surveyed for the study, 29.2% reported using cannabis and 18.8% reported having used both e-cigarettes and cannabis at some point during their lives.
The researchers found that a significant number of students in these groups had used e-cigarettes to vaporize cannabis: around 18% of lifetime e-cigarette users, 18.4% of lifetime cannabis users and 26.5% of e-cigarette and cannabis dual users.
Further analysis of the survey results revealed that the people most likely to vaporize cannabis using e-cigarettes were male students, younger students, lifetime e-cigarette users and lifetime cannabis users.
Prof. Morean explains the potential appeal of using e-cigarettes to vaporize cannabis products:
“The smell of vaping marijuana isn’t as strong as smoking it, plus the similarity in appearance of hash oil and nicotine solutions make this a really inconspicuous way of using marijuana.”
While dried cannabis leaves were the most common form of cannabis to be vaporized using e-cigarettes, the researchers state that vaporizing liquid forms of cannabis can be more potent that dried cannabis leaves.
Some e-cigarette vendors also offer devices that are designed with the vaporization of cannabis products in mind.
“These findings raise concerns about the lack of e-cigarette regulations and the potential use of e-cigarettes for purposes other than vaping nicotine,” the researchers conclude.
Previously, Medical News Today ran a Spotlight feature article investigating how safe e-cigarettes are. While the devices are growing dramatically in popularity, opinions remain divided as to their long-term impact on health.
Another study published this summer revealed that adolescents may be more likely to use e-cigarettes if their friends and family use or approve of the devices themselves.
Written by James McIntosh