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Vaping Marijuana: A Growing Threat to Adolescent Mental Health?

Warning: The rise of marijuana vaping among teens is linked to severe mental health issues, including addiction and cognitive impairment.

By Lin Chia-tung and Esme Yeh / Staff reporter, with staff writer

Pulmonologist Su Yi-feng (蘇一峰) has raised alarming concerns about the mental health risks associated with marijuana vaping among teenagers. Su highlighted that the composition of these vaping devices could lead to severe pneumonia, but the long-term mental health consequences are equally concerning.

Su’s warning comes in the wake of media reports about retired Hong Kong e-sports player Kurtis Lau Wai-kin (劉偉健), also known as “Toyz,” who received a four-year prison sentence for trafficking and selling marijuana vapes. Su emphasized that these vapes, also called e-cigarettes, use batteries to heat “e-liquid” to produce flavored vapor, often infused with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

The discreet nature of marijuana cartridges, which produce nearly odorless vapor, has made them particularly appealing to young users. This trend is reflected in worrying statistics: nearly one-third of senior-high school students and one-fourth of middle-school students in the US have tried vaping, with some admitting to using marijuana in e-cigarettes, according to a 2016 survey by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The use of marijuana is especially risky for teenagers, whose brains are still developing. Su explained that marijuana vaping could significantly impair memory, attention, and mental health, leading to long-term cognitive issues. Teenagers are at a higher risk of developing addiction, experiencing poor academic performance, and suffering from mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Su detailed that aside from THC and CBD, marijuana vapes might contain residual solvents, pesticides, carbon monoxide, tar, and ammonia, all of which are detrimental to lung and respiratory health. He specifically pointed out the presence of tocopherol acetate, a compound that, while beneficial for skin when applied topically, is highly toxic and potentially fatal when inhaled.

In the US, over 2,000 young people have developed severe pneumonia linked to marijuana vaping, with some cases proving fatal. In August 2019, an outbreak of e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury resulted in 2,807 severe pneumonia cases and 68 deaths by February 2020. Investigations by the New York State Department of Health found extremely high levels of tocopherol acetate in most marijuana e-cigarette products used by the affected patients.

The mental health implications of marijuana vaping extend beyond immediate cognitive impairments. Regular exposure to THC during adolescence can alter brain development, leading to lasting changes in brain structure and function. These changes can manifest as chronic mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, increased susceptibility to substance abuse, and long-term deficits in learning and memory.

The growing popularity of marijuana vaping among teenagers is a public health crisis that demands immediate attention. Beyond the physical health risks, the long-term mental health consequences could have a profound impact on a generation. Parents, educators, and policymakers must work together to educate young people about the dangers of marijuana vaping and implement effective prevention strategies.

Is marijuana vaping among teens a hidden mental health crisis?

  • Yes, it’s a severe issue that needs more attention.

  • No, the risks are exaggerated.

  • I'm not sure, but more research is needed.


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