Remember the good old days of your childhood?
For me, those were days when the telephone was attached to the wall in the kitchen and had a cord—I had a 20-minute time limit to talk so that the phone line wouldn’t be busy in case someone tried to reach my parents. I passed folded notes to my best friends in the halls of my high school in between periods. And in those days, tobacco was smoked, not vaped, and marijuana was illegal nationwide, although the THC concentration was apparently weak.
I can play the same reminiscing game when it comes to the good old days of 15 years ago, when I was only two years into my role as a student assistance specialist. Most of the substance use issues I faced working in a school setting involved students who were drinking alcohol, occasionally smoking marijuana, and sometimes using tobacco.
Fast forward to 2021 and I am sure you will agree, times have changed. As it relates to substance use among youth, the “current trend” is vaping nicotine and THC products. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse’s Monitoring the Future 2020 survey results, 34.5% of 12th graders, 30.7% of 10th graders, and 16.5% of 8th graders reported vaping nicotine in the past 12 months. Those figures have nearly doubled since the survey began including questions about vaping in 2017. Vaping marijuana was reported at lower rates than vaping nicotine, but the figures are still significant : 22.1% of 12th graders, 19.1% of 10th graders, and 8.1% of 8th graders.
So more kids are vaping nicotine and marijuana… what is the big deal? Let’s start with issues related to vaping nicotine. Documented health concerns include:
There is also evidence that teens and young adults who vape are 3.6 times more likely to move on to smoking traditional cigarettes, and cigarette use leads to its own well-known set of health concerns.
Vaping marijuana and THC products can also lead to a number of health concerns for young people. Not only is the likelihood of developing a cannabis use disorder almost doubled when people begin using marijuana in their teens, but studies show marijuana can have a number of negative consequences including:
Because the potency of THC in the concentrates that are vaped is anywhere between 40-99% compared to 15-20% in green leaf marijuana, the risks are even greater for vaped THC than for the traditional form of smoked marijuana.
While much has changed since I was a teenager, and even since I started working in the prevention field, there is one thing that remains the same.
The greatest protective factor available in the life of young people is the positive influence of their parents/caregivers or other significant adults.
I suggest that adults start talking about substance use early and often. Small conversations repeated over time are easier to have than a big “talk” that happens once in the teen years. Sending consistent messages about expectations, rules, and consequences to young people is important because they receive so many mixed messages from social media and other sources in their lives. And trust your gut and ask for help if you are concerned about a young person. Changes in behavior, attitude, or physical appearance can be cause for concern. Reach out to counselors at the school, a pediatrician, or some other professional to seek guidance.
Finally, it is so important to remember that while the numbers of teens who are vaping nicotine or marijuana have risen over the last few years, the majority of teens are not using substances of any kind. Parents, schools, and other child-serving organizations are making a difference in the prevention of substance use among teens. I believe we can continue to positively impact the lives of young people if we keep our knowledge of the current trends up-to-date and make space for the important
View the Berks County Juuling & Vaping Toolkit to learn more about vaping, with resources for parents, educators and health care workers.