Why Vaping Marijuana and THC is Dangerous to the Health of Your Students

Key points:

  • Vaping of marijuana among youth is a growing problem.

  • While many states are making it easier to get marijuana, it’s a dangerous substance for young students, whose brains do not fully develop until the age of 25.

  • Studies have shown that heavy marijuana use in adolescence can cause memory and learning issues, driving impairment, and a higher risk for addiction to alcohol and other drugs.

  • Vaping and smoking marijuana also affects lung health, increasing your risk of getting sick with infections like COVID-19. It’s also been linked to a recent wave of illnesses and deaths in the U.S.

There are many misconceptions about vaping marijuana, but two things are true: it’s harmful to not only the lungs but also to the young, developing brain.


While some states are making it easier to access marijuana for medical and recreational use, this substance still poses serious health risks – especially to students who vape or smoke it frequently. As stewards of student health and healthy learning environments, schools can be at the forefront of tackling this epidemic.


Is vaping marijuana a problem among young students?


Vaping of marijuana among youth has more than doubled in the past two years14. One 2019 survey reported past-year marijuana vaping as:

  • 20.8% among 12th graders

  • 19.4% among 10th graders

  • 7.0%. among 8th graders

Health officials agree: unlike the dangers of tobacco use, many students remain unaware of the risks of vaping in general.


Why is vaping marijuana dangerous to young students?


You may have heard the saying, “If it grows in the ground, it’s probably OK,” when talking about drug use. But that’s not necessarily the case for those who frequently smoke marijuana and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) – the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.


Vaping marijuana damages your lung health, making you more susceptible to infections like COVID-19 (coronavirus), a chronic cough, and more. When you’re vaping, you may be breathing in a toxic blend of nicotine, THC, cannabinoid oils, and other substances, such as flavorings and additives. In fact, an ingredient in marijuana vapes – vitamin E acetate – has been linked to a recent surge in illnesses and deaths across the United States.


How does marijuana affect young students’ developing brains?


The human brain does not fully develop until the age of 25, making young students who frequently vape or smoke marijuana more sensitive to its adverse health effects.


Some studies have linked heavy marijuana use in adolescence to issues with short-term memory, including the ability to remember what is seen and heard. Regular marijuana use can also affect school performance and IQ. A landmark study found that heavy marijuana consumption caused a roughly six-point drop in IQ from childhood to adulthood.


Researchers also believe there could be a link between marijuana and its effect on impulse control and coordination. A recent McLean Hospital study found that recreational marijuana use impacted driving ability – even when smokers were sober. They had more accidents, drove above the speed limit, and sped through more red lights than non-users. And the earlier a person started smoking marijuana regularly (usually before the age of 16), the worse their driving was.


What is the correlation between nicotine and marijuana vaping?


Nicotine and marijuana are addictive and have long been associated with the use of other drugs. In fact, 93% of current high-school e-cigarette users regularly use cigarettes, alcohol, or marijuana. When it comes to vaping specifically, many students alter nicotine vapes so they can also smoke marijuana out of them.


Overall, youth need more education about the dangers of vaping marijuana to help them stop. Schools are well-positioned to provide this support and lead the shift to a vape-free culture.


Written by Kristin Erekson Barton, MA, CHES

Reviewed by Cindy Bistany, DHSc


References

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  1. American Psychological Association. (2015, November). Marijuana and the Developing Brain. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/11/marijuana-brain

  2. Auer, R., Vittinghoff, E., Yaffe, K., Künzi, A., Kertesz, S. G., Levine, D. A., . . . Pletcher, M. J. (2016). Association Between Lifetime Marijuana Use and Cognitive Function in Middle Age. JAMA Internal Medicine, 176(3), 352. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.78414 Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5109019/

  3. Batalla, A., Bhattacharyya, S., Yücel, M., Fusar-Poli, P., Crippa, J. A., Nogué, S., . . . Martin-Santos, R. (2013). Structural and Functional Imaging Studies in Chronic Cannabis Users: A Systematic Review of Adolescent and Adult Findings. PLoS ONE, 8(2). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.005582121 Retrieved from: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0055821

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019, December 02). E-Cigarettes: Talk to youth about the risks. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/features/back-to-school/e-cigarettes-talk-to-youth-about-risks/index.html

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, June 25). People Who Are at Higher Risk for Severe Illness. (2020, June 25). Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, February 25). Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with the Use of E-Cigarette, or Vaping, Products. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html

  7. Filbey, F. M., Aslan, S., Calhoun, V. D., Spence, J. S., Damaraju, E., Caprihan, A., & Segall, J. (2014). Long-term effects of marijuana use on the brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(47), 16913-16918. doi:10.1073/pnas.1415297111 Retrieved from: https://www.pnas.org/content/111/47/16913.full

  8. Gilbert, P. A., Kava, C. M., & Afifi, R. (2020). High-School Students Rarely Use E-Cigarettes Alone: A Sociodemographic Analysis of Polysubstance Use Among Adolescents in the United States. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. doi:10.1093/ntr/ntaa037. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32052052/

  9. McLean Hospital (2020, January 14). McLean Study Finds Marijuana Use Impacts Driving Even When Sober. Retrieved from https://www.mcleanhospital.org/news/mclean-study-finds-marijuana-use-impacts-driving-even-when-sober

  10. Meier, M. H., Caspi, A., Ambler, A., Harrington, H., Houts, R., Keefe, R. S., . . . Moffitt, T. E. (2012). Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(40). doi:10.1073/pnas.1206820109 Retrieved from: https://www.pnas.org/content/109/40/E2657

  11. National Institute on Drug Abuse, N. V. (2020, June 11). COVID-19: Potential Implications for Individuals with Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2020/04/covid-19-potential-implications-individuals-substance-use-disorders

  12. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, May 28). Is there a link between marijuana use and psychiatric disorders? Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/there-link-between-marijuana-use-psychiatric-disorders

  13. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 16). Vaping Devices (Electronic Cigarettes) DrugFacts. Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/vaping-devices-electronic-cigarettes

  14. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 04). Vaping of marijuana on the rise among teens. Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/news-releases/2019/12/vaping-of-marijuana-on-the-rise-among-teens

  15. Partnership to End Addiction. (2020, July 07). Vaping and Marijuana: What You Need to Know. Retrieved from: https://drugfree.org/article/vaping-and-marijuana-what-you-need-to-know/


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