Vaping Illicit Drugs On The Rise


woman wearing white crew neck shirt
Photo by Megan Forbes on


E-cigarettes are being adapted to allow kids as young as middle school age to smoke illicit drugs, a trend becoming much more dangerous than many parents are aware of and one that is beginning to impact hospital ERs.

‘Vaping’ has been marketed as the ‘safe’ way to smoke cigarettes but many teens are abusing ‘vaping’ to enhance a drug user’s high. The chemicals in synthetic drugs are dangerous and there is a possibility for overdosing.

In a recent study, 28% of young people in 12th grade say they ‘vaped’ in the previous year (2017), 19% ‘vaped’ nicotine, 9% ‘vaped’ marijuana and 20% ‘vaped’ “just flavoring.”

“Yeah, big problem. Various cannabis preps can be vaped as are bath salts and I am sure more. Plus folks are creative and will try to vape anything (from hash oil to crushed pills mixed with some water or oil base…),” said Paola Sandroni M.D. Ph.D, of the Mayo Clinic.

Many teens don’t have the foresight to know that what they are doing is potentially fatal. And, because ‘vaping’ synthetic drugs is more discreet than other forms of drug abuse, they are easy to hide in places like schools.

Some teens are known to escape a boring class with their discreet ‘vape’ pen and blow the smoke into their hooded sweatshirt. ‘I get asked in the school bathroom if I want to vape at least once a week,’ said Jack Ferlough, a 14-year-old high school student in Connecticut.

“And as much less obvious than joints, the risk of being detected is much smaller. But risk of getting seriously high or with toxic levels of a drug is huge,” said Sandroni.

As far as trends of how long the popularity and ease of “vaping” will go, not much is known yet. It is seen as something that can be “cool” or “safe” because of celebrities are doing it as well. Celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan, Katy Perry and Leonardo DiCaprio have all been seen ‘vaping’ in public.

Researchers are afraid that ‘vaping’ is normalizing smoking among young teens, especially in grades as young as 7th and 8th.

“My sense is trend is up,” Sandroni worries.  “Lethal or not, there’s still significant morbidity and it is already apparent. I would compare it to any other drug invasion we have experienced. I think it will get a lot worse before it gets better.”

A waitress at a Pennsylvania restaurant ended up at the UPMC emergency room after 3 months of vaping, according to a story about her in the medical journal, Pediatrics. Doctors found her to have difficulty breathing, stabbing chest pain from each inhale and exhale. she was admitted to the pediatric ICU, but her symptoms worsened and she experienced respiratory failure. A mechanical vent helped her breathe until her lungs recovered.

–Erin O’Donnell reporting


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