The Sobering Truth About Teen Vaping

You’ve probably heard of vapes and vaping at this point – sometimes also known as a reusable electronic cigarette, a vape is a separately marketed and produced reusable electronic device that heats so-called e-liquids to produce an inhalable flavored vapor, often infused with nicotine or THC (the active chemical component in cannabis).  The main feature of a vape is that a large variety of e-liquids can be used in one. Some manufacturers specially design their vapes to limit usage to proprietary liquids in so-called vape pods or liquid pods. In other cases, the composition of the fluid will restrict what devices can properly heat it.

Since the industry’s inception in the early 2010s, vaping has grown dramatically. While vape companies are all over the market, the frontrunner and main culprit behind the massive growth is Juul, a brand that has also been notorious for specifically targeting teen and underage customers. But why is vaping dangerous? Well, let’s start by taking a closer look at vapes themselves, how the act of vaping affects teens, and whether vaping is detrimental or not.

What Is and Isn’t Vaping?

First off, vaping is the act of using an electronic cigarette or device that produces a plant-based vapor rather than smoke. Vapes can look like pens, cigarettes, thumb (flash) drives, or any other small, hand-held device with a mouthpiece. They can be modded (modified) with extra electronic components to increase the voltage and heating efficiency of the unit or provide longer battery life.

Cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and other smoking products rely on pulling smoke through a filter into the lungs to achieve a nicotine hit. The burned tobacco and additives can significantly damage the body, producing plaque and tar buildup in the lungs, massively increasing the risk of lung disease and heart disease, and affecting bone health, not to mention the effects of nicotine itself.

Vaping first started marketing itself as a smoking alternative because it doesn’t involve any actual smoke inhalation. But since its popularity has soared, enough data has been gathered to begin making inquiries into whether that statement is true. So far, the information we have shows that vaping isn’t without its risks. The e-liquids used in vapes are, according to marketing material, wouldn’t cause the same health problems.

All e-liquids are composed of up to about 95 percent of two base ingredients: propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin. Both of these compounds are plant-derived chemicals. According to avid vapers, these two compounds are used to produce a much more voluminous vapor than water, closer to a cigarette’s smoke without the tar. The higher the ratio of PG to VG, the heavier the “hit” on the back of the throat. The higher the percentage of VG to PG, the more vapor is produced.

Aside from the mechanics, the safety of these chemicals isn’t necessarily contested. What is contested is the safety of many additives found in vapes – mostly colorants and flavorings, used to make e-liquids smell and taste like anything from butterscotch to cola. Furthermore, many e-liquids (including those sold to teens illegally) contain active ingredients like nicotine or THC. While the nicotine levels are always advertised on the packaging, any level of nicotine is addictive (and physically harmful, especially to an underdeveloped body).

Smoking Down, Vaping Up

As vaping continues to rise in popularity, smoking cigarettes has taken a hard dip over the last few years. Many vaping proponents argue that vapes are especially useful for people who struggle with quitting smoking, as it allows them to try a less dangerous and less harmful alternative. While the science is inconclusive on whether vaping is truly less dangerous than smoking in the long term, it is clear that vaping’s most significant controversies don’t center around adults trying to quit a smoking habit but around the popularity and growth in use among children and young adults.

Do All Vapes Contain Nicotine?

E-liquids are sold both with and without nicotine, and the nicotine-containing products are labeled to inform the user how much they’d be inhaling. However, that doesn’t mean nicotine-less vaping is automatically safe – it’s just safer than vaping with nicotine. Why? For one, nicotine is a highly addictive substance. It is also a hazardous one. Long-term nicotine use can change the way the brain interprets dopamine-related signals, and causes problems with a person’s inner reward system while triggering irritability, mood swings, issues with concentration, severe withdrawal symptoms (if without nicotine for too long), and more.

Furthermore, substance use disorder at a young age (including nicotine) tends to correlate with other substances and concurrent mental health issues later in life and a tougher time getting treatment. Correlation isn’t causation – there may be other related factors that carry greater blame – but it’s a risk factor, nonetheless. Long-term nicotine use also affects the other organs, especially the heart. Heart disease remains one of the leading causes of death in the developed world, and nicotine products like tobacco are the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

Is Vaping Itself Harmful?

While the full dangers aren’t yet clear, we do know that several minors have been diagnosed with so-called electronic cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (EVALI), as per the CDC. Some 3.6 million underage high school students reported vaping in 2018, a huge jump from the previous year despite age restrictions. It seems that these age groups, in particular, were vulnerable to EVALI, as most cases occurred in teens and young adults.

It’s still unknown what caused this wave of illnesses and whether vaping has any other long-term risks to consider. While there were originally many concerns regarding heavy metal inhalation, it seems now that the primary cause for EVALI among teens might be a chemical reaction or allergic reaction to specific additives in some e-liquids. Aside from lung-related symptoms, another negative effect of long-term vaping is cottonmouth, from the glycol in the vapor.

It’s also come to the attention of researchers that some flavors seem to be more dangerous than others. In general, it’s best to assume that no form of vaping is completely safe. While it’s legal, and any adult may feel free to try it, it’s both illegal and ill-advised for underage teens (and just plain ill-advised for younger adults).

Is All Vaping Addictive?

The only addictive component in some e-liquids is nicotine. While THC has a psychoactive effect, it is not addictive in the same way. It can, however, still be a dangerous compound, especially because it affects the user’s cognition and awareness and can have consequences for a user’s executive function and problem-solving with long-term use. Vaping THC also produces a more intense high than smoking marijuana. Technically, e-liquids with neither of these compounds in them are not addictive. But again, that doesn’t make them safe.

What Parents Can Do

If you suspect that your teen is vaping, it might be a good idea to sit down and talk to them. Don’t immediately reprimand them for their behavior. Maybe they picked it up from a friend and didn’t know it would be harmful. Maybe they heard it was healthier than cigarettes and figured it’d be a harmless way to look cool. Perhaps they haven’t tried e-liquids with nicotine yet, or have only recently started using nicotine. In many cases, teens become the victims of trendy marketing and slick ads.

Trying to blame them for it is underestimating the manipulative nature of vape marketing and overestimating the long-term risk assessment skills of the average teen. Continue to set a good example by not vaping or smoking yourself. If your teen has been vaping, talk to them about the negative impact and dangers of vapes, and back your statements up with facts from sources like the CDC. And if their behavior persists – to the point that they can’t quit by themselves – consider getting help together.


From Vaping to Tobacco: Teen Health Effects of Nicotine

It’s no secret that cigarettes are bad for you – from the carcinogenic effects of smoke inhalation, to the heavy use of pesticides in the cultivation of tobacco, and the various additives cigarette companies use to make their product more palatable or grant it a longer shelf life. But even in its natural state, tobacco is addictive and dangerous.

And particularly so for teens. Its main active compound is nicotine, an incredibly toxic stimulant drug in its pure form. Most of the time, nicotine enters the bloodstream through regulated nicotine products such as nicotine patches, nicotine gum, nicotine-containing “e-liquids”, and a variety of tobacco products.

It is not clear if the effects of nicotine can contribute to the development of cancer, like many of the other compounds in cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products. But nicotine is highly addictive – and that its effects on the brain are especially pronounced in teens, who eventually have a much harder time quitting cigarettes when they are older.

The Effects of Nicotine, From Cigars to E-Cigarettes

Nicotine products are commonly inhaled through cigarettes, cigarillos, cigars, and vapes/e-cigarettes. They are also ingested through gum and snuff, and sometimes administered through nicotine patches, which are designed for smoking cessation. While teen smoking has massively decreased in the years following the battles between the tobacco lobby and various public health and medical institutions, it has been supplanted in recent years by the vaping phenomenon.

Born from the e-cigarette industry, vaping involves the inhalation of specially designed “e-liquids” via an electronic device that heats the liquid and allows the user to inhale its vapors. These liquids are mostly made of water, glycerin, and a type of glycol, alongside an active ingredient like nicotine, and various additives for flavor and aroma. While nothing is “burnt” while vaping, the continued use of vaping devices can lead to their wear-and-tear, introducing trace amounts of heavy metals and unwanted chemicals into the vaper’s lungs.

Furthermore, many e-liquids are made with additives and flavorings that are potentially harmful. But these risks generally do not hold a candle to the overarching risks and effects of nicotine, which remains an active ingredient in most vaping products on the market. While you can get nicotine-free e-liquids, these are not without risk, and may lead to nicotine use later.

What Exactly Is Nicotine?

Nicotine is an addictive stimulant drug that poses a risk for the heart. Its addictive potential is due to its effects on the brain’s reward mechanism, or the limbic system, through the release of dopamine and research has shown that individuals with a high rate of anxiety are likely to use nicotine products as a way to self-medicate, as it can help with symptoms of anxiety in the short-term.

In the long-term, however, the effects of nicotine use leads to nicotine addiction and withdrawal symptoms, changes in appetite, increased risk of heart disease, anxiety disorders, and mood swings, and more. In its pure form, nicotine is incredibly toxic, to the point that it can induce vomiting and other signs of poisoning after skin contact.

Pure nicotine should never be handled by a non-professional. While nicotine poisoning is rarely fatal, it can induce severe illness. Even in its natural form, those unaccustomed to tobacco products and nicotine can easily get sick when accidentally coming into contact with too much of it – Green Tobacco Sickness is a type of nicotine poisoning experienced by young farmers after skin contact with wet tobacco leaves.

The Effects of Nicotine on the Adolescent Brain

Teens are more susceptible to the negative effects of nicotine because it is an addictive stimulant drug, and thus usually causes addiction in teens faster than in adults. Teen brains are still in development, and addictive substances tend to leave a much stronger and longer lasting impression on teen brains than adult brains. It is not until the age of about 25 that the human brain finishes development.

Until then, teens and young adults are more likely to take unnecessary risks, make poor decisions, and struggle with long-term choices. It is estimated that about three out of four teens who start smoking as adolescents continue to smoke well into adulthood. While the data is not in yet on whether vaping habits also continue into adulthood, the assumption can be made that it is equally dangerous due to both tobacco products and e-cigarettes sharing the same active compound.

Is Vaping Better Than Smoking?

A lot of the carcinogenic risk in cigarettes stems from the inhalation of burnt tobacco, and tar deposits in the lungs. However, while vaping products are safer than cigarettes and cigars, they are not totally safe. People have gotten sick from vaping.

Especially with modified vaping products and black-market e-liquids, there are still many studies currently trying to determine the long-term effects of vaping. Preliminary data urges teens and parents to be cautious, as e-cigarettes and other vaping products contain various potentially dangerous or harmful compounds.

What About Nicotine-Free Vaping?

There are countless different vaping products on the market, and many different so-called “e-liquids” to use them with. These e-liquids typically contain either nicotine or THC (in states where it is legal, or on the black market), but some e-liquids are composed of only artificial flavoring, water, and either propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin. Turning a vape on will heat the liquid, and the user then draws it through their lungs in vapor form. There is no smoke in an e-cigarette or vape.

There are, however, various potentially toxic compounds and heavy metals, and long-term research into the dangers of vaping is still ongoing. Preliminary data suggests that it is certainly healthier not to vape, not only because it might lead to experimentation with nicotine at an early age, but also because long-term e-cigarette use, even without nicotine, may lead to lung damage, lung disease, and/or cancer. Some of the potentially toxic compounds commonly found in e-liquids, even without nicotine, include:

    • Diacetyl
    • Acetyl Propionyl/Acetylpropionyl
    • Acetoin

Many artificial flavoring chemicals can be potentially harmful when inhaled, such as:

    • Acrolein
    • Acrylamide
    • Acrylonitrile
    • Eucalyptol
    • Formaldehyde
    • Vanillin
    • And more

Currently, vaping is agreed to be safer than smoking – but that doesn’t make it safe, particularly for teens with developing brains and bodies. And sadly, teens are the fastest growing market in the vaping industry and continue to adopt vaping faster than any other age group. The CDC also identified acetate (vitamin E) as a compound of concern in vaping products, where it is used as a thickening agent.

Any nicotine products should be avoided by teens, due to the addictive nature of nicotine, and the association between nicotine products and heart disease, lung disease, and cancer. Nicotine gum, while not used as often, is also an addictive product, and can lead to heart issues due to heart palpitations, and constricted blood vessels. Any level of nicotine exposure should be taken seriously, especially in adolescents.

Addiction Alcohol Smoking Substance Abuse

Are Popular Music Festivals Endangering Your Teen?

Drugs, Inappropriate Behavior and Death

These last few months have been all the rage with teens and everyone under 30. Music festival season took off, as it does each summer and trails of at the start of fall. So Cal is one of the best places to be if you’re into any type of music from hip-hop and indie to heavy metal and techno. Whatever you’re looking to blow out your eardrums to, there’s a festival for it for sure. These festivals can be fun and are the talk of the town for celebrities all over the world that flock here to things like Coachella for the fashion, the press, the food and most importantly the music. Weeks before these festivals, people wait in their online cue to pay hundreds of dollars or a couple thousand to lay out in the hot California sun for a three-day dehydrating extravaganza. But when do these festivals get out of hand and why? Are popular music festivals endangering your teen?

Not So Wonderful, eh Wonderland?

Just this weekend, Labor Day weekend, there was a huge festival called Nocturnal Wonderland out in Southern California at the San Manuel Amphitheater where thousands flock to see their favorite DJs and mix artists. This festival is one that has to be smack in the center of nature because it gets loud and crazy. Every year there are hundreds of arrests, but this year there was a record 428 arrests made for teens that were under age and under the influence, to people being completely out of their minds on drugs and a few cases of public exposure. This festival is known for drugs and lots of them which are why several arrests were made on those that were at the concert to sell large inventories of drugs such as combinations of anything goes ecstasy, marijuana, cocaine, LSD and more.

For some kids, this festival is about exploration and getting out there to try new things without worrying about getting caught. The only problem is this time cops were ready to take down anyone that was doing just that. These festivals would be a perfect place for someone that enjoyed the music and was responsible enough to say no to harsh substances, but many teens that attend have no idea what they’re getting themselves into. There have been a few cases where overdose and death on the first attempt at drug use for young people has occurred at this particular festival. So, if your teen is pushing to go to these concerts, they may not be prepared for what’s available to them; this is where addiction and bad habits are formed, but we should be aware of the risks. Know all the facts and educate your child before you allow them to take part in music festivals such as these.

If you feel your teen has an addiction and needs rehabilitation, please call Visions Adolescent Treatment Center today at (818) 889-3665 to schedule an appointment with our addiction specialists.

Addiction Recovery Smoking

What’s Really in Those E-Cigs?

The latest research shows that there are tiny particles of metals in the vapor from E-Cigs. Dr. Stanton Glantz from University of California at San Francisco, and one of the leading researchers on E-Cigs, says, “If you are around somebody who is using e-cigarettes, you are breathing in ultra-fine particles and you are breathing in nicotine.”  Scientist Prue Talbot and her research team at the University of Riverside is one are one of the first to analyze the vapor itself. The findings were metals and more metals in the vapor; along with some oxygen, they found tin, copper and some nickel. Inhaling nanoparticles is dangerous and with a vehicle like E-Cigs, the nanotoxins will go deeper into the lungs. According to Dr. Glantz, “These particles are so very small, they go from your lungs, straight into your blood stream, and carry the toxic chemicals into your blood and then appear in various organs.”


While E-cigs may not be as polluting as tobacco cigarettes, they are not harmless. Each brand varies in terms of its content, so while one may be heavier in tin, another may have more copper. Certainly, E-Cigs may facilitate smoking cessation, however, there is a lack of information regarding product safety and toxicity, and currently there aren’t any FDA regulations regarding quality control and production during manufacturing. As a result, we have limited information about the legitimate safety of e-cigs aside from the short research done around the vapor itself. There isn’t enough data to sufficiently indicate the long-term effects of smoking E-Cigs and that means users are essentially the guinea pigs for this method of harm-reduction.


The pros: E-Cigs deliver fewer total chemicals and fewer carcinogens.

The cons: You are still inhaling chemicals into your lungs and blood stream. Products vary, they are not regulated, and there is a significant variance in toxicity. One study showed that 5 minutes of inhalation “adversely affected lung physiology, indicating that a better understanding of the health effects related to e-cigarettes is needed.”


Perhaps you want to quit smoking and E-Cigs seem to be the easy way out. Think about it this way: is there ever an easy way out? My experience has shown me that taking shortcuts in recovery, regardless of what one is recovering from, typically has negative results.


Are e-cigarettes safe to use? New research shows metals found in vapor of electronic cigarettes

Addiction Eating Disorders Recovery Smoking

Eating Disorders: Using Smoking As Weight Control

Smoking cigarettes in adolescence has always been considered a pathway to coolness, or a way to fit in. For a time, smoking began to be considered passé, but amongst teens in recovery, it still holds the mythical status of cool and is often key to fitting in. So much so, kids who want to quit or who don’t really want to smoke may even start smoking E-cigarettes in an attempt to reach the same level of cool. (It is just vapor, right?). I digress. For girls who smoke, there may be another reason behind the nasty habit: presumed thinness, or a path to thinness. Some assume that smoking is also the answer to hunger pains and subconsciously satisfy (albeit temporarily) the desire for food.


In their working paper titled “The Demand for Cigarettes as Derived from the Demand for Weight Control,” Stephanie Von Kinke Kessler Scholder and John Cawley found that “among teenagers who smoke frequently, 46% of girls and 30% of boys are smoking in part to control their weight.” We see this behavior all the time within our recovery community, particular among those suffering from and beginning to recover from eating disorders. For some, the idea is that it’s far easier to go smoke than to eat lunch. We are highly aware of this predilection amongst our eating disorder population and we take great measures to stop these behaviors in their tracks. Some of which include supervised meals and several focus groups dedicated to eating disorder recovery.


But what about someone struggling with an eating disorder who is not in the safe, healing environment of a treatment facility? What if they are on their own, doing the dance of recovery solely through meetings and fellowship? Will they notice their use of cigarettes to stifle hunger pains? More than likely, they will not. I remember being new and bragging that I was surviving on a diet of coffee and cigarettes, ever chasing the goal of “perfection.” At the same time, I also had a raging eating disorder, consuming my thinking and vision. I was clueless. It took me years to learn to recognize that smoking was a key to assisting me in my process of acquiring thinness.  In fact, one of the fears when I quit smoking was the presumed assurance of weight gain.


As always, one of the first steps to recovery is asking for help. This is not a feat that comes naturally to an addict or alcoholic. We are accustomed to “doing it all ourselves.” Still, going to meetings, getting a sponsor, finding a therapist, all of these things can help us begin the healing process. Beginning the process of digging deeply and getting to the root cause of whatever is causing you to harm yourself with addiction, starvation or binging, or binging and purging is crucial. We cannot recover alone, nor can we stop the insanity of our addictions without asking for help.

Addiction Smoking

E-Cigarettes: Harmless? We Think Not

It turns out those some of those fancy electronic cigarettes are being used to deliver something more sinister than nicotine. The “e-cigs” I’m referring to are called “Trippy Sticks” or “iVapor” by those who alter their purpose. This is the latest trend: taking hash oil (or any intoxicant that can be gelled or liquefied) and injecting it into electronic cigarettes or “portable herbal vaporizers.” These “vape pens” as they are called, have no smell, no smoke, and their true contents are virtually undetectable.  Based on e-cigarette technology, users have found a way to inject hash oil into these devices in order to evaporate high levels of THC without having to burn it.  Unless the e-cigarette is tested, no one would ever know it contains something other than nicotine.

E-Cigarettes were introduced in the US market in 2007. They were initially marketed as an innocuous solution to help smokers stop smoking tobacco. They don’t, however, curb the addiction to nicotine. Rather than getting one’s nicotine from the tobacco in cigarettes, e-cigarettes deliver it through a smoke-free nicotine vapor. And because e-cigs don’t necessarily contain tobacco, they are not subjected to the same tobacco laws—at least, not yet. There aren’t any age restrictions when it comes to purchasing the devices, particularly if you are buying online. Flavored and unflavored e-cigarettes are marketed in a fun, intriguing way, luring in the young and impressionable, and selling themselves to consumers as “harmless.” In fact, non-smoking teens will often smoke the flavored, nicotine-free e-cigarettes, which primes them to eventually smoke the real thing. Some parents may be fooled into thinking that their kids aren’t actually “smoking” and buy the e-cigarettes in an attempt to take preventative action.


As we wait for scientists to study the negative effects of e-cigarettes, I am afraid that the fast-paced drug culture has already opened the door for their misuse. It’s troubling that these “Trippy Sticks” are undetectable and that their use is spreading like wild fire. More disturbing is how little research has been done at this point. Warnings haven’t been released, no major upsets have taken place, and no one is in the hospital. Yet. As is often the case, our kids see using something they see as harmless and fun, without considering the possible consequences.


E-cigarettes are NOT a safe solution to a bad habit. They are not harmless. They are not something to be encouraged or ignored. With technology everywhere, our teens have easy access to any information, good and bad, but so do we! As parents, it’s the sinister side we have to pay attention to. Technology is how our current and future generations communicate, share, create, and thrive. We have a responsibility to investigate the unknown, ask our own questions, and come out of the dark. Being a Luddite is no longer an excuse for “not knowing” or not understanding our kids; what we don’t know has the power to alienate us and make us disengaged parents. Investigate technology, be in the know, be transparent, ask questions, show real interest in your kids and their lives, and create and hold boundaries. Trippy Sticks are just another fish in the pond of designer drugs, and one way we can nip the new drugs in the bud is if we make them less interesting.

Addiction Adolescence Smoking

Smoking: Not So Cool Anymore

Smoking Alone… (Photo credit: Dr. Jaus)

When I was growing up, smoking was emblematic of the Outsiders or James Dean or the Marlboro man. It was a symbol of “cool,” or of being a rebel or a badass. I grew up with tobacco ads emblazoned upon billboards across Los Angeles and littering the pages of magazines. What could possibly be wrong with smoking if it looked so cool, right? Wrong. Did you know that the three men who held the role of the Marlboro Man eventually died of lung cancer, and the infamous brand ended up with the nickname “Cowboy Killers“?  Still, it wasn’t until 1999 that smoking billboards were ultimately replaced with anti-smoking ads, despite efforts toward the prohibition of tobacco advertising building for years.

Finally, in 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act went into effect. The Act requires placement of new warnings and labels on tobacco packaging and in tobacco ads; its ultimate goal is to deter minors and young adults from using tobacco products. Tobacco companies are also required to seek FDA approval for new products. But why am I talking legal Acts and advertising,  or reminiscing about the Marlboro Man? Because statistics gathered from a recent are showing us that teens are, in fact, finally smoking less! The full results of the survey done by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health can be found here.  However, I’ll give you a brief window into what the results showed. Perhaps those terrifying, graphic warnings are finally starting to work.

According to this study:

  • 1 in 11 (8.7 percent) adolescents smoked cigarettes in the past month.
  • Rates of adolescent past month cigarette use ranged from 5.9 percent in Utah to 13.5 percent in Wyoming
  • 10 States with the highest rates of past month cigarette use among adolescents, 4 were in the Midwest (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Ohio)
  • Of the States with the lowest rates of past month cigarette use among adolescents, 5 were in the West (California, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah, and Washington)

Teen perceptions of the danger of smoking are increasing:  2 in every 3 adolescents recognize that smoking is dangerous. This is a good thing. It would appear that smoking is no longer seen as cool. If anything, smoking has been relegated to outside locations, where smokers are allowed to smoke in small, outdoor spaces, which are a specified distance away from any doors. Smoking in this day and age would really just be a pain in the rear. The recent laws and views toward smoking have made it really a challenge for those who want to indulge. At this point, why bother?

Addiction Smoking

Hookahs: Exotic and Toxic

In part 3 of this series, we’ll be discussing one of the oldest smoking fads: the Hookah. (Click to read Part 1 and Part 2)

The hookah dates back to the 15th century, at which time its use was revered as one of prestige amongst the upper classes. According to some sources, the hookah was invented in India by Hakim Abu’l-Fath Gīlānī, a physician, who created this system to allow smoke to be passed through water so it could be “purified.” This is still a popular perception today, with many people smoking hookahs indiscriminately, assuming the “particles” from the tobacco are being filtered out.

The hookah, in its ornate beauty, allures the young, creating an illusion of social grandiosity. It might even have a glamorous, exotic appeal: the smoke is sweet, as they are often flavored with things like cherry and vanilla, and the hookahs themselves are often quite beautiful. What a wonderful metaphor, reminding us the outsides don’t always match the insides: the hookah experience may look and even taste good, but the damage it causes is deeply embedded in its smoky tendrils.

Partaking in a session of hookah smoking is often assumed to be less harmful than smoking cigarettes, but in reality, it’s not. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Hookah smokers may actually inhale more tobacco smoke than cigarette smokers because of the large volume of smoke they inhale in one smoking session, which can last as long as 60 minutes.” (I cough just thinking about this!) Hookahs come with their own set of risks, though, some of which include:

  • High levels of toxic compounds, including tar, carbon monoxide, heavy metals and carcinogens;
  • Exposure to more carbon monoxide than cigarette smokers;
  • Hookah smoking is linked to lung and oral cancers, heart disease and other serious illnesses;
  • Hookah smoking delivers about the same amount of nicotine as cigarette smoking does, possibly leading to tobacco addiction.

So before you cozy up in the hookah lounge, attempting to have an exotic experience with friends, think again. There are much better things to do with your time, like taking the opportunity to indulge in some fabulous Indian food instead. Save the smoky allure for the history books.

Articles of interest:

CDC Fact Sheet

Putting the Crimp in Hookah

Addiction Marijuana Smoking Synthetic Drugs

Marijuana and its Synthetic Counterparts: A Look at a New Study

Part one of a three-part blog, wherein I will begin to address the use of marijuana and synthetic marijuana. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3, where I will address the increase in prescription drug and hookah use.

Recent studies elicited by Monitoring the Future (MTF) show a decrease in alcohol consumption and tobacco use; at the same time, they found an increase in the use of alternate tobacco products (hookah, small cigars, smokeless tobacco), marijuana, and prescription drugs.

One explanation for the increase in marijuana consumption is a lower perceived risk: “In recent years, fewer teens report seeing much danger associated with its use, even with regular use.” The call to legalize marijuana has also contributed to this new perception by extinguishing some of the associated stigma. As a result, we are seeing a denial of risk and a decline in disapproval amongst our adolescent counterparts. There seems to be a viable change in societal norms occurring at the adolescent level. No longer is marijuana use relegated to the “losers,” but rather it is now part and parcel to one’s normative social interactions with anyone, regardless of socio-economic status. With the advent of synthetic marijuana, the perception of danger has been further clouded by the sheer fact that these synthetic substances can be purchased almost anywhere. The surge in the use of synthetic marijuana products like Spice and K2 has created a maelstrom of reported symptoms which include:

  • paranoia;
  • loss of consciousness;
  • hallucinations, and;
  • psychotic episodes.

We currently see more and more kids coming into treatment with a history of Spice and K2 use. And Gil Kerlikoeske, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) points out that, “Poison control center data across America has shown a substantial rise in the number of calls from victims suffering serious consequences from these synthetic drugs.” Currently, the House has voted on a ban of synthetic drugs like Spice, K2, bath salts, et cetera, asking that it be added to the “highly restrictive Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act.” So far, approximately 40 states have passed laws which criminalize Spice and other synthetic substances.

Whether banned or not, there needs to be open dialogue about Spice and K2 and its various counterparts. These synthetics are popping up faster than the DEA can regulate them, proving that the drug environment is changing before our eyes. As such, it’s imperative we stay fluent in the language of our teens, and the social environments in which they operate. We all know the “thrill of the high” is often associated with the verboten nature of its purchase and consumption. Open dialogue removes the mystery, and frankly, it’s not enough to rely upon the justice system to provide the answers.

Addiction Smoking

Can Graphic Imagery Deter Smokers?

Who actually smokes anymore? I find myself saying this every time I see someone light up; especially after all we’ve learned. It’s not like there’s some beneficial properties to smoking chemically treated tobacco!

Anti-smoking laws have been on the rise for years. Truth is, being a smoker is expensive and isolating, not to mention bad for your health. Looks like the ultimate goal is to eliminate smoking in public places once and for all. It used to be that folks could smoke in restaurants or planes, negatively impacting the communal air space. Over time this has changed. As a former smoker, I remember feeling the heat when those first changes were initiated. I remember being resentful and feeling as though my rights were being violated.  My young, feisty attitude screamed, “I can do whatever I want!” and of course, I smoked anyway. I realize now that it wasn’t my “right” to harm those around me. That self-righteousness was really the selfishness of my addiction talking. True to addict form, all I could think about was my next cigarette.

Recently, the FDA released 9 graphic anti-smoking images that are required to be placed on the top half of cigarette packaging by the Fall of 2012. At the same time, Australia will begin enforcing a ban on brand labels on cigarette packaging in an effort to lesson the intrigue and coolness factor associated with smoking. Despite the usual grumblings from the tobacco industry, the FDA is holding firm. Sadly, the graphic images haven’t really impacted the way people are smoking, though. According to a new, German study, smokers that have been deprived of nicotine for short periods of time have a lower response to fear.  “In those who stop smoking, the activity of the fear center has been lowered so much that they are not very receptive to the scary photos,” said study researcher René Hurlemann, of the University of Bonn in Germany.  They came to this conclusion after scanning the brains of 28 smokers and 28 non-smokers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)[1].  And researcher Özgür Onur of the University of Köln noted that smokers, particularly after a 12-hour abstinence, were “indifferent to fear.” Onur went on to say, “It seems that they (smokers) are mentally caught up in their addiction, resulting in a lowered receptivity for fear-inducing stimuli.” That’s a problem, particularly when fear is our body’s natural way of keeping us from doing something perilous. 

While the FDA’s imagery may be useful in deterring non-smokers from picking up in the first place, I hesitate to think that it will greatly change the way current smokers look at their legal drug of choice. The teens I come across certainly aren’t deterred. If anything, they are viewing the graphic images as a joke.

Beyond the current results of these scientific studies, the taste left in my mouth is really one of denial seasoned with a nicotine chaser.