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Cannabis vaping continues its rise in teens



More teenagers in the United States reported cannabis use with vaping in 2019, compared with 2017, while cannabis use without vaping declined, based on annual survey data from more than 50,000 teens.

“With vaping prevalence rising so quickly among teens, getting a clearer picture of how cannabis use is shifting helps inform prevention and cessation efforts,” corresponding author Noah T. Kreski, MPH, of Columbia University, New York, said in an interview.

“In just 2 years, the most common cannabis use pattern changed from ‘occasional use without vaping’ to ‘frequent use with vaping,’ said Mx. Kreski, who uses the honorific Mx. and the pronouns they/them. “Knowing that, as well as the high overlap of cannabis vaping with nicotine use and binge drinking, adds to the urgency of reducing adolescent vaping.”

To quantify the trends in cannabis vaping, the researchers reviewed data from Monitoring the Future, an annual survey of high school students across the United States. The study population included 51,052 individuals; approximately 49% were male and 49% were non-Hispanic White. The researchers examined frequency of cannabis use, trends across demographic groups, and concurrent use of cannabis and other substances such as alcohol and tobacco. The findings were published in the journal Addiction.

Frequent cannabis use was defined as six or more times in the past 30 days; occasional use was defined as one to five times in the past 30 days.

Frequent cannabis use with vaping increased from 2.1% in 2017 to 5.4% in 2019. Occasional cannabis use with vaping also increased, though less dramatically, from less than 2% in 2017 to approximately 3.5% in 2019.

By contrast, both frequent and occasional cannabis use without vaping declined from 2017 to 2019 (from 3.8% to 2.1% and from 6.9% to 4.4%, respectively).

Overall, the prevalence of any level of cannabis use increased from 13.9% in 2017 to 15.4% in 2019. Both males and females showed a similar increase in reported frequent cannabis use with vaping of approximately 3%.

The results document that vaping cannabis has become more common than smoking alone among U.S. teens across almost all demographic groups, and across sex, race, urbanicity, and level of parent education; however, the increased was especially marked among Hispanic/Latinx teens and those of lower socioeconomic status, the researchers wrote.

The researchers also examined the associations between cannabis use with and without vaping and concurrent nicotine and alcohol use. Overall, the strongest association was between smoking or vaping nicotine and vaping cannabis; teens who smoked or vaped nicotine were 42 times more likely than nonnicotine users to report vaping cannabis in the past 30 days (adjusted odds ratio, 42.28). In addition, more occasions of binge drinking were more strongly associated with cannabis use with vaping (up to 10 times more likely), compared with cannabis use without vaping, (aORs, 4.48-10.09).

The study findings were limited by several factors, including the lack of questions on tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol content of the cannabis products used, although evidence suggests that the potency of cannabis products in the United States is increasing, the researchers noted. Other limitations included the cross-sectional design, which prevents making associations about causality, and lack of data on the quantity of cannabis used; only data on frequency of use were recorded.

However, the results reflect a rise in cannabis use with vaping among teens in the United States, along with an increased risk of tobacco use, e-cigarette use, and binge drinking, the researchers said.

As cannabis legalization expands across the United States, policies are needed to deter use among adolescents, the researchers wrote. “These policies should be crafted to reduce an emphasis on criminalization in preference for public health promotion given the history of unequal application of punitive consequences of drug use for racialized minorities in the United States. As products, delivery systems, potency, and marketing proliferate within a for-profit industry, increased attention to youth trends, including investment in sustained and evidence-based prevention and intervention, is increasingly necessary.”

The take-home message for clinicians is to ask whether your patients are vaping, because the prevalence is not only up, but fairly universal, Mx. Kreski said. “Have a discussion that covers a broad range of substance use topics and informs teens of the potential risks of vaping, while avoiding stigma.”

The message for parents is “to talk to your kids about the risks of vaping,” said Mx. Kreski. “Prioritize open communication rather than punishment, and work together with your teens to prevent or reduce vaping.” The message for teens: “Understand that vaping has risks. You should feel empowered to talk to your parents or doctor about those risks. While it may seem like everyone’s vaping, the majority don’t. Keeping communication open between parents/caregivers, teens, and health care providers is one of the best ways to address these trends in vaping.”


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