Study Finds Teens Who Vape More Likely to Consume Cannabis Later

The new study makes an important contribution to understanding the complex factors that influence cannabis consumption among teens.
FDA Seeks New E-Cig Regulations in Response to Spike in Teen Vaping

The peer-reviewed medical journal Pediatrics has just published a new study on the relationship between teen tobacco use and subsequent cannabis use in teens. Researchers already know that smoking cigarettes can lead to trying marijuana, consuming it more often, and potentially lead to developing dependencies on both tobacco and cannabis. But studies have so far only looked at conventional tobacco products like cigarettes. Today, however, it’s far more common for teens to vape e-cigs than smoke cigarettes, and researchers are keen to find out whether teens who vape are also more likely to consume cannabis later.

Study Prompts Debate Over E-Cigs and Marijuana Use

Concerns over a “high school vaping epidemic” can be heard from all corners of the country. And while epidemic might be a bit alarmist, it is true that tobacco use is up among adolescents nationwide. According to the latest data, more than 11 percent of high schoolers currently vape e-cigarettes. On top of that, somewhere between five percent and 11 percent of high school students smoke hookah.

To study how this new generation of tobacco use impacts adolescent cannabis consumption, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Southern California conducted a survey. 2,668 students at 10 public schools in Los Angeles took the initial survey in late 2013. All the participants were 14 years old and in ninth grade.

The initial survey asked participants about their specific tobacco use and whether they had ever consumed cannabis of any kind. Two years later, when the students turned 16 and were in 11th grade, a follow-up survey asked more detailed questions about marijuana. Had students used combustible, vaped or edible marijuana? And how recently?

After analyzing the survey data, researchers concluded what previous studies had led them to hypothesize. Students who tried or used e-cigarettes as freshmen were three times more likely to try marijuana and consume cannabis in the past month than students who didn’t vape tobacco or smoke hookah.

In short, teens who vape are more likely to consume cannabis later—about three times as likely than teens who don’t vape.

New Study Could Help States Shape Policy to Reduce Teen Cannabis Use

Researchers who published the new study on teen vaping and marijuana use in this month’s issue of Pediatrics say they controlled for other factors that could contribute to an increased likelihood of cannabis consumption. But researchers unconnected with the study are advising the public to cautiously consider its results.

For example, environmental health sciences professor at Columbia University Dr. Ana Navas-Acien says that even if teens who vaped are more likely to consume cannabis, the relationship might not be one of straightforward cause and effect. Adolescent drug use researcher and University of Michigan professor Richard Miech agrees that there are complex social factors at play.

Nevertheless, the consensus is that there is some kind of relationship between teen vaping and subsequent cannabis use. And figuring it out could help public health experts craft policy to better safeguard minors from the risks of both tobacco and cannabis use.

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