e-cigaretteIn the past few months I’ve had the privilege to speak with parents of high school students about the prevention of drug use. One of the questions that’s come up repeatedly from school staff has been: ‘What do we do about e-cigarettes?’ Now I’ve noticed the e-cigarette vendor signs in urban areas and have read the media hype about e-cigarettes, but I hadn’t realized how prevalent they were in schools, nor had I understood another common use for these mini vaporizers: they’re a way to use marijuana undetected.

E-cigarettes are small vaporizers that look like a pen. The American Academy of Pediatrics highlighted this week that half the Poison Center calls on e-cigarette liquids involved children, so they are becoming more and more common in households. To use an e-cigarette, the nicotine liquid is heated and the user can inhale to receive the same sensation as smoking a cigarette, but without as much of the smell as traditional cigarettes. The people who advertise e-cigarettes state that their advantage is that the user does not receive all the toxins, but what they don’t tell you is that a user is still receiving the nicotine and continues to be addicted to it. Nicotine itself is a toxin that can lead to heart and large vessel disease and as a physician, I recommend avoiding it.

Marijuana, in the form of concentrated hash oil, can be used in place of the nicotine with an e-cigarette. When used, the vapor does not have the pungent smell of the typical joint or bong which makes it extremely difficult for anyone to know if the oil is nicotine or hash. Teens can use the e-cigarette to take a hit while sitting in class (it may look like they’re chewing on a pen) and a teacher may not even notice. If an e-cigarette is found by school staff, they have no way of knowing what is in it.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that amongst those in high school, tobacco use has declined overall, but the use of e-cigarettes has doubled. In WA, where marijuana has been legalized for those age 21 and over, we’re finding that marijuana use among 12th graders has exceeded tobacco use with 27% reporting use of marijuana and 16% using tobacco. Both drugs can have harmful effects on the body. Marijuana affects the teen’s developing brain and can drop IQ points, lead to lack of motivation, and is associated with poor school achievement. Teens who use marijuana are also more likely to use other substances.

What does this mean for parents?

Be aware of drug paraphernalia and if you find something, but aren’t sure what it is, ask your teen about it.

Communicate with your teen your expectations about behavior, including substance use.

Seek help if you suspect your teen is using. Some great resources include NIDA and SAMHSA.

For more information please check out:

Our previous posts on marijuana here and here

A recent post by seattlemamadoc on e-cigarettes

How to talk to your teen about your own history

How to talk to your teen about drugs