Depression and anxiety symptoms in teens and young adults have been linked to vaping nicotine and THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, in a new study conducted by the American Heart Association.
“Younger people have long been vulnerable to tobacco use, may experience greater harm from nicotine and other drugs, and may be targeted by tobacco advertisers and marketers,” study author Dr. Joy Hart said in a statement Tuesday.
The results of the survey, which involved over 2,500 teenagers and young adults, come in the wake of recent reports indicating a sharp increase in marijuana use among young adults due to the legalization of the drug in more states.
“E-cigarette devices are still relatively new compared to other tobacco products, such as combustible cigarettes and pipes, so more research is needed to try to better understand the popularity of e-cigarettes, including reasons for vaping and the associated health risks among youth,” added Hart, who is also a professor of communication at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.
The mental health and vaping habits of 2,505 teenagers and young adults between the ages of 13 and 24 were examined through an online survey.
The mental health and vaping usage of 2,505 teens and young adults aged 13 to 24 were assessed through an online survey. The researchers compared the answers of THC-only vapers, nicotine-only vapers, dual vapers, and non-vapers. The study primarily focused on the responses of 1,921 people who had either vaped within 30 days or identified as non-vapers.
Among the 159 respondents who only vaped THC, 70% reported experiencing worries, flashbacks, panic attacks, and situational anxieties within the prior week, compared to 40% of 562 non-vapers. The survey also included responses from 370 nicotine vapers and 830 dual vapers, of which 60% reported feelings of anxiety.
Over half of the vapers, regardless of category, reported depression and difficulty engaging in or being interested in activities they once enjoyed.
In contrast, only a quarter of non-vapers reported depression. More than half of the vapers of any category also reported suicidal thoughts within the past year, in stark contrast to one-third of non-vapers.
It is worth noting that several participants mentioned they began vaping to alleviate their depression or anxiety symptoms. However, the study indicated that the opposite effect might be taking place.
“This study showed the striking significance of issues with mental health in users of both nicotine vapes as well as THC vapes, and as new products continue to come on the market, I think that this is something that we will continue to see,” said Dr. Loren Wold, who served as the writing committee lead for the American Heart Association’s 2022 Statement on Cardiopulmonary Consequences of Vaping in Adolescents.
Some studies have discovered that teenagers as young as 14 have developed a dependence on vaping, and some even reach for their e-cigarette within minutes of waking up in the morning.
“When better coping skills are developed, there may be fewer temptations to try to manage anxiety symptoms and similar mental health challenges through vaping, as well as better refusal skills if offered an electronic cigarette,” said senior study author Dr. Rose Marie Robertson.
“Increased priority on more positive behaviors to alleviate tension and manage anxiety symptoms may reduce the likelihood of vaping, possible addiction and the increased risk of negative health outcomes,” added Robertson, who also serves as the deputy chief science and medical officer of the American Heart Association.
An “urgent need” for campaigns and educational programs to caution young people about the risks of vaping and e-cigarettes was also highlighted by the researcher. On TikTok, a religious vaper urged fellow young adults to quit vaping after her lung “spontaneously” collapsed last year, nearly causing her death.
The American Heart Association survey further revealed that dual vapers showed greater signs of addiction towards nicotine, such as waking up in the middle of the night to vape, but reported feeling less depressed compared to other vapers.
On the other hand, strict nicotine vapers reported that the substance had no effect on their depression.
“Although we knew that THC was commonly vaped, we were surprised to have so many dual vapers — more than double the nicotine-only vapers,” said Hart, stressing how vital it is to teach healthy coping mechanisms to young people. “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.”
E-cigarettes were initially intended to assist smokers in quitting traditional cigarettes, which have been associated with cancer. However, young non-smokers have become attracted to the flavored pods and are becoming addicted.
Lawmakers have been prompted to take notice of the harmful effects associated with vaping, including erectile dysfunction, high blood sugar, diabetes, and eating disorders. As a response, earlier this year, Gov. Kathy Hochul suggested a ban on flavored tobacco and vape products to be implemented throughout the state.