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New Study Links Vaping Nicotine and THC to Depression and Anxiety in Teens and Young Adults

A recent survey conducted by the American Heart Association reveals that vaping nicotine and THC is associated with self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety among teens and young adults. The study's preliminary findings were presented at the Association's Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2023 held in Boston. The researchers conducted an online survey among 2,505 teens and young adults aged 13-24, focusing on 1,921 individuals who had never vaped or were current vapers. Of the participants, 562 individuals reported they had never vaped, 370 had vaped only nicotine, 159 had vaped only THC, and 830 were dual vapers of nicotine and THC.

High Prevalence of Depression, Anxiety, and Suicidal Thoughts Among Vapers

The findings revealed that approximately 70% of the THC-only vapers and 60% of the nicotine-only vapers and dual vapers reported experiencing anxiety symptoms, such as worries, flashbacks, panic attacks, and situational anxieties, within the past week, compared to about 40% of participants who had never vaped. Additionally, over 50% of the nicotine-only vapers, THC-only vapers, and dual vapers reported experiencing symptoms of depression, such as difficulty engaging in or being interested in activities they normally enjoyed, whether depression interfered with their ability to do the things they needed to do at work, at school, or at home and whether depression interfered with their social life and relationships, within the past week, compared to 25% of non-vapers. More than 50% of people in all vaping groups reported having suicidal thoughts within the past 12 months, compared to only one-third of non-users.

Reasons for Vaping

Around 20% of nicotine-only vapers and dual vapers started vaping nicotine to calm down or feel less stressed, and one-third of participants in both groups reported that they currently vaped nicotine to cope with feelings of anxiety. In contrast, about half of THC-only vapers started vaping THC and currently vaped THC to relieve anxiety symptoms. About a quarter of the dual vapers and nicotine-only vapers started vaping to help feel less depressed and currently vaped for this reason. About one-third of THC-only vapers started vaping THC, and nearly half currently vaped THC to feel less depressed.

Dual Vapers Are More Likely to Be Addicted to Nicotine and Experience Positive Effects

Dual vapers were significantly more likely than nicotine-only vapers to indicate addiction to nicotine, which was defined in this study as behavior such as waking up at night to vape. Dual vapers of nicotine and THC were also significantly more likely to say they felt less depressed after they started vaping, whereas nicotine-only vapers were more likely to report that vaping had no impact on their feelings of depression. The researchers suggested that this could be related to dual users' stronger addiction to these products, rather than the positive impacts of the products on their mental health.

Study Limitations

The study had limitations: the use of cross-sectional data did not allow researchers to assess whether symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as suicidal thoughts, were caused or exacerbated by the use of the THC and nicotine vapes, or whether the existence of those symptoms had an effect on the use of the vape products. Collecting online data via a web-based panel meant that participants may not be representative of all U.S. teens and young adults. Additionally, the data were self-reported.

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