If you are the parent of a teen who uses marijuana or a health professional looking for clear reasons to back up your pleas to a youth not to use marijuana, you can find it in the vaping crisis.
To date in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported 1888 cases of EVALI (E-product or vaping product use associated lung injury), which is the lung injury associated with vaping. The CDC has sex and age-related data for 1378 and 1364 of these patients. Of 1378 patients, 70% are male. More importantly for parents or health professionals working with youth, of 1364 patients, 54% are under age 24, with 14% being under age 18.
CDC also has very specific information about 867 patients: in 34% of these cases, the users had only been vaping Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the active ingredient in marijuana, although 86% of those patients with vaping-associated lung injuries had been using cannabis. While neither vaping, nor marijuana have been the cause of these lung injuries, the statistics show that the risks of vaping marijuana are very clear.
As a physician, I find the description of the lung disease associated with vaping to be very frightening. As the statistics are updated, I raise them with all my patients to encourage them not to vape marijuana. It would be great if my patients, who are all under 24, did not use marijuana at all since their brains are still developing. However, the use of cannabis in my practice is likely at least 20.6%, based on data regarding youth aged 15-19 from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. The data for the program where I work suggests that one third of all my patients are using drugs or alcohol. This is not surprising in youth with mental health problems.
My patients know me. I strive to be nonjudgmental about their marijuana use. I know that substance use and addiction are illnesses and I know that my patients are struggling not to use and that their ability to stop is difficult without appropriate intervention. The evidence is that a harm reduction approach is more likely to be helpful to a person seeking treatment than an abstinence approach.
Having said this, I have been known to beg a youth to really, really stop a certain practice when it clearly carries a great risk. Trading sex for drugs, dealing drugs, injecting drugs – all these practices involve tremendous risks and, harm reduction notwithstanding, I beg people to stop, call shelters for support, call the detox centre and generally do everything I can when someone listens to me begging for one minute and wants a way out of their risky practice. I have now added vaping, and especially vaping marijuana, to this category of risky behaviours.
To me, with these reports of EVALI, vaping marijuana is a risky behaviour and I am now providing whatever information I can to convince youth not to vape marijuana. I urge parents and others speaking with youth to do the same. If you are looking for good information, you can find it on the CDC or Health Canada websites.
As more statistics emerge, it is becoming clear that vaping has significant risks. These are the symptoms of EVALI:
- Cough, shortness of breath or chest pain.
- Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or diarrhea.
- Fever, chills or weight loss.
If your child, or if you personally, develop these symptoms, do not hesitate to get urgent medical attention.
The risks of vaping are becoming frighteningly clear.