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Teens Who Vape Nicotine and THC Are More Depressed and Anxious, Survey Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Mar 02, 2023   
Two people share a cigarette.

Image credit: iStock

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Most teenagers who vape either THC or nicotine experience regular anxiety symptoms, according to a new survey from the American Heart Association (AHA).

THC, nicotine, and mental health

The survey, which was presented at the association’s conference in Boston (held between February 28 and March 3), asked 1,921 teens and young adults, aged between 13 and 24, about how often they consumed nicotine-only vapers, THC-only vapers, and dual vapers of both substances, as well as their state of mental health.

Of the 1,921 people selected from the online survey, 562 (29.3%) said they had never vaped, 370 (19.3%) had vaped only nicotine, 159 (8.3%) had vaped only THC, and 830 (43.2%) were dual vapers of both drugs.

Approximately 70% of the THC-only vapers and 60% of the nicotine-only vapers and dual vapers reported experiencing anxiety symptoms (such as panic attacks, “worries”, and flashbacks) within the past week. In contrast, about 40% of participants who never vaped reported experiencing such symptoms.

According to the AHA, more than 50% of people in all vaping groups reported having suicidal thoughts within the past 12 months, compared to only one-third of the non-users.

More than half of people in all vaping groups also reported experiencing symptoms of depression within the past week. In contrast, about 25% of the non-vapers reported such depression symptoms.

Again and again, it seemed the cannabis and nicotine vapers were more likely to have mental health problems than those who didn’t vape.

“These findings suggest the importance of addressing the use of THC and the need for building resilience and coping skills for teens and young adults,” Joy Hart, a professor of communication at the University of Louisville in Kentucky and study author, said in a statement.

Of course, the survey couldn’t determine whether this closer association between cannabis, nicotine, and mental health issues was causal or not.

Indeed, other studies have found that individuals with pre-existing depression are more likely to consume cannabis than their peers who don’t have depression.

So, to properly determine the long-term connections between mental health and vaping, further research will be needed, according to co-author of the AHA study Rose Marie Robertson.

Dual use and action

Within the AHA survey, dual vapers were significantly more likely than nicotine-only vapers to indicate an addiction to nicotine, which the researchers defined as behavior such as waking up at night to vape.

Dual vapers were also significantly more likely to say they felt less depressed after they started vaping, whereas nicotine-only vapers were more likely to report that vaping had no impact on their depression. This difference, according to the AHA researchers, may be related to dual users’ stronger addiction to these products, rather than the positive impacts of the products on their mental health.

“Although we knew that THC was commonly vaped, we were surprised to have so many dual vapers – more than double the nicotine-only vapers,” Joy Hart said.

“Dual use may either compound the addictive nature of vaping or attract people who are more prone to addiction, as well as have an impact on symptoms of depression. These findings suggest the importance of addressing the use of THC and the need for building resilience and coping skills for teens and young adults.”


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