The practice of using vaping devices to consume marijuana or cannabis products is becoming increasingly widespread. Recent data shows that more than one-fifth of high school seniors have reported vaping marijuana in the past year. At the same time, one of the ingredients present in many marijuana vapes has been linked to a wave of illnesses and deaths impacting people of all ages across the U.S.
Unfortunately, these vaping-related injuries and mortalities are not the only reason parents and caregivers should be concerned about the risks teenagers and young adults face when they vape marijuana.
How it works
Just like nicotine vaping devices, marijuana vapes work by heating a liquid or oil that becomes a vapor the user inhales. Marijuana vaping devices often resemble vaping devices used for nicotine or other e-liquids. For example, PAX is a brand of marijuana vaporizers that closely resemble the popular JUUL devices. Those seeking to vape marijuana can also learn how to “hack” nicotine vapes to work with marijuana from countless YouTube videos and other online resources.
When teens vape marijuana they’re putting two vital organs at risk: their brains and their lungs. The brain of an adolescent or young adult continues to grow and develop well into early adulthood, and is busy developing critical skills related to problem-solving, impulse control, anticipating consequences and more. Marijuana can get in the way of this crucial development.
It’s important for parents and caregivers to note that marijuana may impact the brains of young people differently than it impacts the brains of fully mature adults. Long-lasting or permanent effects on the developing adolescent brain due to marijuana use may include:
- Difficulty with critical thinking skills like attention, problem solving and memory
- Impaired reaction time and coordination, especially as it relates to driving
- Decline in school performance
- Increased risk of mental health issues including depression or anxiety and, in some cases, psychosis where there is a family history of it
Research also shows that teens who use marijuana are twice as likely as adults to become addicted to it.
Several thousand lung injuries and deaths have also been associated with an illness linked to vaping devices containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and Vitamin E Acetate, a thickening agent sometimes added to the e-liquid. Although the majority of marijuana vaping devices containing Vitamin E Acetate were bought through illegal channels, there have been several cases where the additive was identified in vaping products purchased from regulated marijuana dispensaries.
Symptoms of this vaping-related lung illness, also known as EVALI (E-cigarette, or Vaping, product use Associated Lung Injury), include:
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Low oxygen levels
- Lung failure and death (in severe cases)
A Vaping Guide for Parents: What you need to know & how to talk to your kids about vaping.
How to recognize if your child is vaping marijuana
Vaping can be difficult to detect as there is no smoke, minimal odor (although you may catch a whiff) and the vapor produced dissipates rapidly. However, just like smoking, vaping marijuana can result in bloodshot eyes, dry mouth and thirst, increased appetite and shifts in behavior and mood. Sometimes, there is a noticeable change in friends and a decrease in activities that were once enjoyed.
You may also find vaping paraphernalia such as devices that look like flash drives, gel jars that contain dabs, and pods or cartridges that contain THC oil. There’s a lot of high-tech-looking equipment that can accompany vaping, so if you’re not sure, it might be time to talk to your child about what you found.