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Cannabis Vaping on the Rise Among US Teens, Survey Finds

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Dec 18, 2019   
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The number of teenagers vaping cannabis has risen dramatically within the past two years, according to two research letters published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  

With teenage cannabis use linked to changes in the developing brain and an increased risk of depression and suicidal ideation, the trends uncovered in these studies could have important consequences for future public health efforts.

National Youth Tobacco Survey shows large spike among tobacco users

In the first study, Self-reported Marijuana Use in Electronic Cigarettes Among US Youth, 2017 to 2018, the researchers used data collected by the 2017 and 2018 National Youth Tobacco Surveys to assess changes in teen e-cigarette cannabis use.

They found that the prevalence of reported cannabis e-cigarette use rose among all students by more than three percentage points – from 11.1 percent in 2017 to 14.7 percent in 2018. Increases were seen across some specific demographic groups, including both male and female students, teens aged 13 to 17 years, and non-Hispanic white and Hispanic students.

The largest increases seen in the study were observed in current users of one tobacco product and the subset of students who lived with a household member that uses e-cigarettes. Across these subsets there was an observed increase of 7.4 and 6.8 percentage points respectively from 2017 to 2018.

“This study identified a significant increase in self-reported marijuana use in e-cigarettes from 2017 to 2018 among US students, using the most current data available at the national level,” the research letter states.

The authors surmise that this increase could be due to the increasing popularity and sales of Juul vape pod kits, along with a reduced perception of the potential harms of cannabis use.

However, the study is limited. All information was self-reported and changes in the wording of survey questions about cannabis use in e-cigarettes may limit direct comparisons.

Despite these limitations, the letter concludes that “continuous surveillance of youth vaping of marijuana is warranted” in light of the results.

Cannabis vaping “second largest, single-year increase ever tracked” by survey

The other study, Trends in Reported Marijuana Vaping Among US Adolescents, 2017-2019, used data from the Monitoring the Future annual national surveys on drug use, which are conducted annually by the University of Michigan and funded by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Researchers from both the University of Michigan and University of Minnesota analyzed responses to the question “On how many days (if any) have you vaped marijuana[?]” across the surveys from 2017, 2018, and 2019 to identify any trends or changes in self-reported cannabis vaping behavior in teenage students in the US.

The cannabis vaping question appeared on a randomly selected two-thirds sample of surveys in 2019, and a randomly selected one-third sample received the question in 2017 and 2018.

The researchers found a significant increase in cannabis vaping from 2018 to 2019. In fact, the absolute increases in cannabis vaping from 2018 to 2019 seen among 12th graders for past 30-day use are “the second largest, single-year increases ever tracked by Monitoring the Future for any substance in its 45-year history,” according to the research letter. The increase in nicotine vaping from 2017 to 2018 also ranks first.

The study notes that its limitations include the potential for reporting error and the absence of any high-school dropouts from the sample.

“The rapid rise of marijuana vaping indicates the need for new prevention and intervention efforts aimed specifically at adolescents,” the research letter concluded.

What the experts say on teenage cannabis vaping

Analytical Cannabis spoke with Rob Thomas, principal consultant of Scientific Solutions, earlier this year on the dangers of youth cannabis vaping as part of an interview on cannabis contamination and testing.

“I also teach in a local high school and I can tell you now the kids will vape anything they can get their hands on,” Thomas said. “And we’re finding now that many of the cannabinoid delivery devices, particularly vaping sticks, are picking up heavy metals, not from the cannabis product, not from the liquid or the oil, but from the metallic components inside these vaping devices.”

“It’s a serious problem,” he continued. “There’s a good chance that [the students] are inhaling particles of heavy metals, such as lead, when they vape. And we don’t have a clear understanding of the problem at the moment, because the industry is not really investigating it.”

Alexander Beadle

Science Writer

Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds a Master's in Materials Chemistry from the University of St. Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie scholarship, and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.


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