Is Vaping a Gateway Drug?

is vaping a gateway drug

Is Vaping a Gateway Drug?

Over the years, vaping has grown in popularity. At first, it was offered as an alternative to smoking as a way for users to kick their habit. However, in recent years, more and more people are beginning to use e-cigarettes, even if they haven’t smoked previously. It’s so popular that we need to consider is vaping a gateway drug?

The widespread use of vaping has come under scrutiny as a gateway drug just as tobacco and marijuana do. With confusion around vaping and its effects, it is important to understand what it is and how it can affect its users.

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What is Vaping?

According to the Center on Addiction, “Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device.”

Vaping has become popular because it is often referred to as a safer alternative to a cigarette. It can be done with e-cigarettes, vape pens, and personal vapors, which are also called MODS. The JUUL has become one of the top vaping devices and has different flavored liquids. All of the JUUL flavors contain nicotine. Because of this, the JUUL is addictive and still exposes its users to harmful chemicals.

Vaping requires e-liquid, which contains nicotine, flavoring, and other chemicals. E-liquid does not contain tobacco; however, e-liquids may contain THC and other synthetic drugs that are addictive.

Why is Vaping Popular?

Due to the appealing advertisements, assortments of flavors and easy accessibility, many young adults believe vaping is less harmful than traditional cigarettes. As a result, individuals who would not have smoked regular cigarettes are now vaping.

Although e-cigarettes are becoming more widely tolerated, they are also starting to come under more scrutiny. Many manufacturers claim they are safe to use, however recent studies continue to show vaping isn’t as harmless as one may think.

Is it Harmless or Is Vaping a Gateway Drug?

In recent years, researchers have found that vaping can be more harmful than initially suspected, especially when young individuals vape. But is vaping a gateway drug?

When an individual vapes an e-cigarette, they are inhaling nicotine. Nicotine affects the brain by increasing the levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that provides the individual with a pleasurable feeling. The argument that vaping is a gateway drug claims that even though e-cigarettes do not contain addictive substances themselves, it can still lead to the use of other drugs.

A gateway drug is a drug that is not addictive on its own but can lead individuals to use other addictive substances. When a young adult begins to crave the feeling that vaping can bring, they may end up turning to other substances that can bring that same sensation, but at a more dangerous choice.

According to a study by Eric R. Kandel, M.D., and Denise B. Kandel, Ph.D., e-cigarettes can cause individuals to become addicted to other drugs. The gateway hypothesis observed that young people became involved with drugs through stages. A sequence of drug use begins with legal drug use and proceeds to illegal drug use. Through their research, they discovered that because vaping makes you feel good, the positive memories can create an addiction. Their research also shows that priming with nicotine has been shown to lead to enhanced cocaine use, therefore vaping can be considered a gateway drug.

Another study examining students who used e-cigarettes showed that those who started smoking in the 9th grade more likely than others to start smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products within the next year.

In addition to including nicotine, vape e-liquids contain other harmful chemicals. Some of these chemicals are made when certain flavors react with propylene glycol. Propylene glycol is commonly found in vape juices. According to a study by Sven-Eric Jordt, Ph.D., these chemicals can then irritate the lungs. This is another way that vaping can be harmful to one’s health.

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Frequently Asked Questions


What Makes Vaping so Dangerous?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, when some e-cigarette products were studied, the vapor was found to contain known carcinogens and toxic chemicals. Toxic metal nanoparticles were also discovered, which came from the devices themselves. Some e-liquids were found to contain high levels of nickel and chromium. This could be a result of heating coils in the vaporizing devices. A type of e-cigarette that looks most like a cigarette (called a cig-a-like) may contain low levels of cadmium. This is a toxic chemical that is also found in cigarette smoke. It can cause serious breathing problems and diseases.

E-cigarettes expose the lungs to a variety of chemicals when the e-liquid is heated and the vapor is inhaled. The nicotine is easily absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs. As it enters the bloodstream, it stimulates the adrenal glands to release epinephrine, or adrenaline. This action affects the central nervous system and the result can be increased blood pressure, increased breathing rate, and a higher than normal heart rate.

Why is Nicotine So Addictive?

Nicotine is known as one of the most addictive drugs in the world. This is because of the way it activates the brain’s reward system and increases dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine’s job is to reinforce rewarding behaviors. When people use e-cigarettes they are motivated to continue to use them despite the harmful effects they can have on their health.  

Can Vaping Lead to Cocaine Addiction?

The National Institutes of Health have found that vaping nicotine could lead to the use of other drugs. Interestingly enough, researchers have found that people who use e-cigarettes are at a greater risk for cocaine abuse and eventually addiction.

More than 90% of adults who have used cocaine smoked cigarettes prior to starting their use of the drug. It is suspected that being exposed to nicotine could be responsible for making people more vulnerable to cocaine.

In one study, scientists gave mice nicotine in their drinking water for seven days. When they were exposed to cocaine, they showed an increase in activity. They also demonstrated long-term potentiation, which is a change in their brain signaling process.

Why are Teens More at Risk for Vaping?

Vaping is the “new thing” for teens to try, and it is not surprising that so many of them are doing it. In many ways, teens are more at risk for vaping because of peer pressure and the desire they may have to fit in with their friends and peers.

But vaping poses a lot of danger for teenagers. A young person’s brain is not fully developed during their teen years. This can make them more susceptible to nicotine and other drugs. Exposing their brains to nicotine at such a young age can have consequences of its own. It is not uncommon for teenagers to experience:

  • An addiction to nicotine.
  • The development of mood disorders.
  • Problems with impulse control.

Problems with making decisions.

  • Difficulties with paying attention and learning.

Does Vaping Eventually Lead to Smoking Cigarettes for Teens?

People who vape and the companies that make these products talk about e-cigarettes as a way to stop smoking. But is the reverse true? Could they cause people – and teens in particular – to start smoking cigarettes?

Dr. Michael Blaha is a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins. He also directs the clinical research at the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. He states that, “I think perhaps the #1 concern about vaping right now is the so-called gateway effect. Our own literature suggests that 2 million young adults use electronic cigarettes as their first nicotine-based product. They’re not trying to quit smoking – they’ve never smoked before.”

He goes on to say that there is evidence that when young people vape e-cigarettes, they are more likely to go on to using illicit drugs and tobacco products like cigarettes. It is the natural progression of addiction.

How Can SpringBoard Recovery Help With Addiction? 

At Springboard Recovery, we offer help to anyone struggling with addiction to alcohol or drugs.  There are a variety of effective ways that Springboard Recovery can help in each of these areas. It is crucial to find an approach that works best for each individual.  

When working with Springboard Recovery, patients are given an individualized plan so that they can be successful in their addiction recovery. Not all people are the same, and their needs are unique to them. Different steps will need to be taken for each person struggling with addiction, allowing them to get the best possible outcome. There are many benefits to go with an individualized approach.

Call Springboard Recovery today if you or a loved one is suffering from addiction.

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