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Vaping has become a popular alternative to smoking. Using e-cigarettes, vape pens and other mechanical devices, a person can inhale and exhale a vapor that contains a variety of chemicals once limited to nicotine. Vaping also spans across the use of chemicals like nicotine, THC, flakka, and more.

Typically, a vaping device will have a battery-powered heating component, a reservoir or cartridge for the liquid, and a mouthpiece to direct the vapor. The liquid consists of a base of propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin, nicotine, chemicals, metals, and various flavorings to enhance the taste.

Vaping vs. Smoking

E-cigarettes are often marketed as a way for people to reduce their exposure to carcinogens by no longer relying on cigarettes and tobacco to provide the nicotine they crave. The plan begins with finding a flavor the customer enjoys and choosing a concentration of nicotine that suits their present tolerance levels. Ideally, the customer will slowly wean off the nicotine by reducing the concentration over time. All that should remain is the oral fixation that comes with the act of smoking, yet the customer now ingests a seemingly harmless mixture of propylene glycol/vegetable glycerin and flavor.

Formerly introduced as a safer alternative to smoking, vaping has now increased in popularity, widespread use, and risk. These days, it’s more common to hear healthcare professionals recommending caution with vaping because their risks outweigh the benefits.

One example of vaping’s increase in harm is the growing demand for a device called a Juul. Its sleek design likens it to a USB drive, making this device easy to conceal. The Juul is both popular and potent, comprising 72% of the market share of vaping products. One cartridge of liquid contains about the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes, which makes it a highly addictive substance.

Who is Vaping?

Though cigarette use in youth may be declining, the CDC reports an increase in vaping. As many as 25% of high school students report vaping regularly by their senior year. Middle school and high school students who vape have tripled in numbers since 2011. The use of e-cigarettes in young adults, aged 18-24, has more than doubled since 2013.

Knowing that e-cigarette products can be used to deliver cannabinoids and other illicit drugs, the Surgeon General recommends more specific surveillance measures for e-cigarettes and vaping devices.

Vaping Nicotine, and the Developing Brain

Nicotine exposure in youth can cause addiction while also stifling cognitive development. Because the brain continues to develop neural connections all the way to the age of 25, introducing nicotine during adolescent years can hinder their cognitive processes.

The brain creates synapses between brain cells when forming new skills and memories. Those synapses provide stronger connections to the specific abilities being developed, however, nicotine alters the way those synapses are formed. The use and abuse of nicotine during adolescence results in the possible impairment of brain functions like the ability to focus, learn, regulate mood, and manage impulse control.

Vaping Other Substances

Flakka, THC, and various forms of legal weed have become sought-after chemicals in vape use among youth, outside of nicotine.  Flakka is an affordable, amphetamine-like synthetic drug, which has seen an increase in usage by 780% in the last 3 years.

Synthetic weed, often referred to as “K2” or “Spice,” consists of synthetic cannabinoids that have been sprayed onto dried and shredded plants. There are more than 100 chemical variants of synthetic cannabinoids, all of which act on the same cannabinoid receptors as marijuana, but can be massively stronger in dosage.

Many teens aren’t certain of the active ingredients in the vape juices they use to ingest synthetic drugs. The vapor makes for a more potent high and the liquid form provides an easy way to blend more chemicals, most of which are unknown. These synthetic drugs are psychoactive and regular users often have intense withdrawal symptoms when they cease using them.

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Side Effects, Addiction, and Observation Of Vaping

Vaping encompasses a potential for the use of a variety of substances. Because of this, side effects and general behavioral observations can vary. Regarding large concentrations of nicotine, side effects can include dizziness, nausea, headache, dry mouth, and constipation. Withdrawal from nicotine typically presents with mood fluctuations, irritability, headaches, insomnia, and fatigue.

For other synthetic substances in vaping juices, the side effects and behaviors can be much more extreme. Violence, hallucinations, dry mouth, nosebleeds, and erratic behavior are all potential physiological symptoms of vaping abuse.

Treatment For Vaping

Depending on the substance of choice, treatment options may vary. Nevertheless, if you or a loved one recognize the above behaviors and desire help, there are options.

All treatments will involve the cessation of use, and a program that requires patience and possible medication to manage withdrawal symptoms. There may also be encouragement for therapy, group sessions, and family sessions as the client navigates recovery.

Written By: Sprout Editorial Team

The Sprout Health Group editorial team is passionate about addiction treatment, recovery and mental health issues. Every article is expert-reviewed.