E-cigarettes may increase the risk of addiction to cocaine and other drugs, nicotine researchers suggest in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine.
While e-cigarettes eliminate some of the health risks associated with regular cigarettes, they are pure nicotine-delivery devices, with the same effects on the brain as cigarettes, according to the wife-husband research team Denise and Eric Kandel. They say e-cigarettes can serve as a “gateway drug,” making people more likely to use and become addicted to drugs, Time reports.
The Kandels note that epidemiologic studies have shown that nicotine use is a gateway to the use of marijuana and cocaine in human populations. In earlier research in mice, the Kandels found nicotine dramatically enhanced the effect of cocaine. Denise’s research suggests nicotine may have a similar effect in humans. She found most people who started using cocaine were also smoking. She also found the rate of cocaine dependence was highest among users who started using cocaine after having smoked cigarettes. Dependence was much lower among people who had begun using cocaine before they started smoking and among those who had never smoked more than 100 cigarettes.
While the typical e-cigarette user is described as a long-term smoker who is unable to stop smoking, e-cigarette use is increasing among teens and young adults, the Kandels note.
“Nicotine acts as a gateway drug on the brain, and this effect is likely to occur whether the exposure is from smoking tobacco, passive tobacco smoke or e-cigarettes,” they said. “More effective prevention programs need to be developed for all the products that contain nicotine, especially those targeting young people. Our data suggest that effective interventions would not only prevent smoking and its negative health consequences but also decrease the risk of progressing to illicit drug use and addiction.”