Two new studies have health experts concerned about the growing dangers of vaping. Both point to a dramatic overall increase in teens vaping marijuana since 2017, at the same time that the CDC has confirmed 2,290 cases of vaping-associated lung injury (called “EVALI”), and 47 related deaths.
The majority of people who have developed EVALI reported having used vaping products that contain a mix of ingredients including vitamin E acetate — a synthetic form of the vitamin — and THC (the psychoactive compound in marijuana).Read More
The studies are from researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and University of Michigan.
Does Smoking Marijuana Cause Lung Cancer?
Experts say that an immediate, large-scale study is necessary to definitively examine the link between marijuana and lung cancer, as well as to help educate millions of people who are smoking marijuana recreationally.
“As someone on the front lines who sees this every day, I’ve seen lung cancer caused by marijuana that is incredibly aggressive. What’s sad in medicine is that we have to wait for the bad event to happen before we can intervene”, says Dr. Raja Flores, chairman of the Department of Thoracic Surgery at Mount Sinai Health System in New York.
SurvivorNet’s extensive review of the medical literature finds no high-quality scientific research establishing a direct link between smoking, or vaping, marijuana and an increased risk of developing lung cancer. This is largely due to the fact that smoking pot was illegal for so long and therefore not easy to study in a long term way. The lack of rigorous scientific data has been quickly embraced by the booming cannabis industry, which is starting to be called “big marijuana.”
University of Michigan Study
The University of Michigan study, which looked at data from the annual Monitoring the Future survey, reported that in 2019, 14% of twelfth graders said they had vaped marijuana in the past 30 days, marking a 6.5% increase from 2018.
The increase in twelfth graders vaping, it found, is the second-largest jump in the use of any drug ever reported on the survey, the first largest jump taking place between 2017 and 2018 in teen vaping.
Of the tenth graders, 12.6% said they had vaped marijuana in the past 30 days, marking a 5.6% increase from 2018. Of the eighth graders, 3.9% said they had vaped marijuana in the past 30 days, marking a 1.3% increase from 2018.
University of Nebraska Study
In the University of Nebraska study, researchers looked at data from 38,000 sixth to twelfth graders, collected by the National Youth Tobacco Survey. It found that adolescents and teens who had vaped marijuana increased from 11.1% in 2017 to 14.7% in 2018.
In 2018, 42.7% of students who have ever used vapes, 53.5% of teens who currently smoke with a vape, and 71.6% of teens who use multiple tobacco product reported having used marijuana in these e-cigarettes, according to the study.
Is There Less Risk of Disease When Using a Vape than When Burning Marijuana?
Today, many people are vaping, not smoking marijuana, and some wonder if vaping presents less of a risk for developing lung disease than smoking.
In this case, vaping is so new that no definitive scientific studies exist, so researchers and the companies that sell the products really don’t know the danger with a level of certainty that’s acceptable for established science. However, like smoking, vaping is essentially a delivery mechanism that creates an aerosol.
“When you burn a product and you inhale it, that’s carcinogenic. And with vaping, the idea is to create an aerosol which you can inhale that is not burnt product. However, whenever you have carcinogens in an aerosol, they will cause cancer, ” agues Dr. Flores.
Aerosols are a quick way for the body to develop a reaction to a substance, (i.e. to get high). Basically products are smoked because it’s a quick way to get them from the mouth, to the lung and into the bloodstream so that people feel the effect very quickly. That’s why aerosols, (i.e smoking or vaping), work so well.
“What an aerosol also does is it takes the products that cause harm to your body, whether it’s cancer, whether it’s COPD, whether it’s coronary artery disease and it gets it into your body quickly and at a high concentration where it can cause more damage. So aerosols are bad,” according to Dr. Flores.
But again, with vaping and marijuana, it is important to point out that researchers really don’t know how to quantify the effects.
“What needs to happen to really study the effect of vaping is you need animal studies. You want to take animals studies where you give them high concentrations of aerosol and see what happens with regard to cancer, lung disease, and coronary artery disease. But none of those studies are being done. Essentially, what happens nowadays, when you have a product that we know has the potential to cause harm, cancer, et cetera, there’s an assault on that science. The business behind the product will make sure that they kick the can down the road to postpone any discovery of harm that can result from that substance. Billions of dollars are dependent on casting doubt on the fact that their product has carcinogens that are causing harm to people,” says Flores.
Experts Call for a Major National Study
“Given the expanding legalization of marijuana, and the anticipated wave of increased use, there is clearly a need to study the cancer risks of marijuana with the same rigor that has been devoted to tobacco smoke,” says Dr. Joseph Friedberg, Head of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Both types of smoke contain some of the same carcinogens, so the widely held belief that tobacco smoke causes cancer and marijuana smoke does not is inherently flawed.”
“There is a lobby out there that is trying to say that marijuana’s better than drinking, that it’s safer, that it doesn’t cause cancer, and that you should do that. And they’re both bad,” says Dr. Flores. There is no real good population-based study that looks at marijuana smoking, and that has had enough time elapsed to show its association with lung cancer,”
“Just as cigarettes come with health risk warnings, the risks of marijuana smoke need to be defined for users to allow them to make an informed decision about smoking pot,” adds Dr. Friedberg.