The Link Between Vaping and Drug Addiction
Vaping or vaporizing is an increasingly popular habit, in which liquid solutions, normally tobacco, are vaporized and inhaled as steam. Vaporizers were originally marketed as a safer and cleaner alternative to cigarettes and are today used by an estimated 9% of the U.S. population, or 35 million adults. This upswing in popularity is concerning, not just because vaporizers have only been on the market for a decade, but also because they consistently function as a sort of “gateway” drug, in that high vaporizer usage is associated with drug and alcohol usage. While this is correlation and not likely causation, easy access to large quantities of nicotine may play a role in forming addictions – which eventually lead to other addictions.
That’s especially critical as 1 in 5 high school students now uses a vaporizer, according to the CDC. With an estimated 1 in 5 middle school students doing the same, “vaping” is quickly being picked up by the populations who are most vulnerable to drug addiction and abuse.
What Are Vaporizers?
Vaporizers rapidly heat a liquid medium to turn it into a gas or steam. This liquid, which is normally sold in cartridges, can contain anything from no nicotine to extremely high doses of nicotine, equivalent to several cigarettes at once. For example, some are intended to contain a single cigarette of nicotine in a puff – supposedly with the intent of reducing the needed volume of “smoking”. Unfortunately, this efficiency rarely results in the intended effect. Instead, people consistently enjoy puffing on a vaporizer. In fact, following vaporizers being introduced to the market, cases of nicotine poisoning rose from an average of 1 per day to over 215 per day.
Vaporizer cartridges are also sold with flavor, marijuana, or other substances – meaning that someone using a vaporizer might be inhaling sugar, nicotine, or a stronger drug.
Vaporizers and Cannabis
Vaporizers are very commonly used to smoke marijuana, especially in the medical community. Vaporizing marijuana preserves more of the active ingredients than smoking – meaning that cannabis can be better dosed and better controlled. That’s while reducing contamination from tar and smoke, which can greatly reduce short-term lung pollution. At the same time, it makes cannabis products more accessible and more discrete for those abusing the drug – making it easier to pass off as tobacco or a flavored e-liquid.
So, vaporizers make it somewhat safer for people to use cannabis. At the same time, they introduce risks in the same manner they introduce risks for tobacco products. If it’s easy to inhale 20 inhales in a row – it’s easier to take significantly too much and to start having problems. For example, while marijuana has a very low addiction profile, about 1 in 5 to 1 in 10 users will start to show signs of addiction over time – with vaporizers, it’s much easier to escalate to the kinds of quantities that result in addiction.
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Do Vaporizers Lead to Heavier Drug Use?
Many people use vaporizers for recreational usage. That can result in attempting to add other drugs, which are less safe. In fact, 85% of all vaporizer users occasionally put something other than tobacco or marijuana in their vaporizer. However, these incidents are experimental and incidental at most.
On the other hand, some meth and DMT users are actually switching to using vaporizers rather than glass pipes. For the most part, that’s a very good thing – considering glass pipes result in hundreds of injuries every year. Vaporizers are unlikely to explode or break from the heat. In addition, they’re less likely to burn hands or to start fires. Yet, most research shows that their usage is fairly incidental. Therefore, there is currently no evidence of widespread usage of vaporizers for heavier drugs.
Do Vaporizers Contribute to Addiction?
Vaporizers allow someone to have near-unlimited access to cannabis or nicotine, through a cartridge. For example, most nicotine cartridges contain anywhere from 400-600 doses of nicotine. A 1ml cartridge of “normal” rather than “strong” or “extra strength” e-liquid is normally equivalent to 3-7 cigarettes. A 3ml cartridge can equate to as many as 21 at normal strength, or as many as 70+ at extra strength. With nothing to stop you from going through that at any pace, there’s nothing to stop you from inhaling tobacco at a rate that would be difficult to impossible with traditional cigarettes.
That ability to quickly and easily get a hit of something, without regards to being indoors or out, and without the restrictions of cigarettes, can make it easier to become addicted. That’s especially true for those who already have a problem with tobacco or who have a history of relying on substances to get themselves through the day.
Eventually, vaporizers offer a lot of harm reduction over smoking cigarettes or joints. Without the smoke and tar, they reduce lung pollution. Often, that means it’s safer and easier for people to use the substances they want. However, vaporizers also result in risks for people who have poor impulse control or who have strong habits to puff and smoke. That can be especially dangerous for those with a long history of smoking or those with addictive personalities.
Vaporizers aren’t bad. However, if someone doesn’t’ smoke, it’s always better to avoid starting altogether. If you do smoke, it’s better to use quantity control when switching to vaporizers – because the amount of nicotine or cannabis you inhale can greatly increase when you switch to a cartridge. Buying smaller cartridges, only using a certain number of cartridges per week, etc. Keeping track of how much you’re smoking and when is important if you want to stay in control.
And, of course, people with a past history of substance abuse, minors, and individuals with documented issues with quantity control should never use vaporizers. They’re too easy to abuse and too easy to escalate into an addiction, even with tobacco. If you have a therapist, you can always ask how they feel, although, in most cases, it’s just better if you don’t start.
Vaporizers are not a cause for alarm. However, they are easy to abuse, they can result in addiction, and people with addiction or addictive personalities can rely on them. In some rare cases, people use them to smoke stronger drugs – but in almost every case, those people were smoking stronger drugs using more dangerous methods first. At the same time, millions of teens and young people are using vaporizers, which could lead them to nicotine addiction and reliance on substances.