Study Describes E-Cigarettes as Gateway To Illegal Drugs

By John Lavitt 09/30/14

A pair of scientists claimed in the New England Journal of Medicine that electronic cigarettes can alter brain chemistry like cocaine.

douche smoking ecig.jpg
On the path to cocaine? Shutterstock

In a red flag-raising study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, neuroscientist Eric Kandel and his wife, Dr. Denise Kandel, warned that electronic cigarettes very likely could be a gateway drug for adolescents. Basing their findings on recent research done on mice, the study reveals that e-cigarettes prime the brain for the use of illegal drugs like cocaine and marijuana.

As e-cigarettes deliver highly addictive "pure nicotine," the brain chemistry of the mice in the study was altered. Such alterations primed the animals for cocaine addiction. "One drug alters the brain's circuitry in a way that enhances the effects of a subsequent drug," Professor Kandel explained.

The couple from Columbia University wrote extensively on the subject of the heightened risk to young people. At the end of their report in the New England Journal of Medicine, they clearly raised a red flag when they wrote:

"Our society needs to be concerned about the effect of e-cigarettes on the brain, especially in young people, and the potential for creating a new generation of persons addicted to nicotine. The effects we found in adult mice are likely to be even stronger in adolescent animals. Priming with nicotine has been shown to lead to enhanced cocaine-induced locomotor activity and increased initial self-administration of cocaine among adolescent, but not adult, rats… Nicotine clearly acts as a gateway drug on the brain."

Although the typical e-cigarette user is a long-term smoker who has been unable to quit, more and more young people are taking up the habit as it has evolved into a popularized fad. A problem is nicotine has a much more powerful effect on the adolescent brain. As Professor Kandel, who in 2000 shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory, said, “The effects we saw in adult mice are probably even stronger in adolescent animals.”

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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