Does E-Cigarette Use Predict Teen Marijuana Use?

By Kelly Burch 04/24/18

A new study examined if teens who vape would go on to use marijuana.

teenage girl vaping

Traditional use of cigarettes has long been tied to future marijuana use among teens, and a new study shows that e-cigarette use may have the same effect. 

“Sadly, but perhaps not unexpectedly, use of e-cigarettes was found to be associated with increased marijuana use, especially in teens ages 12-14,” Lewis First, MD, MS, wrote in an editorial that accompanied the study, published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics

The study followed 10,000 teens ages 12 through 17, asking them about their use of e-cigarettes and of marijuana.

Those who had used e-cigarettes—particularly as younger teens (age 12-14)—were more likely to use marijuana when researchers checked in with them a year later. 

“E-cigarette use predicts subsequent marijuana use among youth, with a stronger association among young adolescents,” researchers concluded. “Reducing youth access to e-cigarettes may decrease downstream marijuana use.”

The study is important, since use of traditional cigarettes among teens has declined sharply, from 28% in 1996 to 8% in 2016.

However, use of e-cigarettes among teens has increased, and vaping is now more common than smoking traditional cigarettes among teenagers. Many teens see the use of e-cigarettes as less harmful than tobacco.

Teens also perceive cannabis as less dangerous, researchers reported. Just 17.1% of teens in 2016 agreed that occasional use of marijuana was dangerous, compared with 27.4% in 2009. 

Combined, these changes in perception of risk could result in higher rates of marijuana use among teens. 

“If youth e-cigarette use follows the same pattern as cigarette smoking, widespread use could expose youth to social environments that encourage substance use, thereby accelerating youths’ transitions to the use of other substances with more adverse health effects,” researchers wrote.

They also speculated that earlier use of e-cigarettes might be connected with future marijuana use, since teens who begin using substances earlier have been shown to have higher rates of addiction and other negative health outcomes.  

First said that the researchers' findings should be considered as more states legalize marijuana for adult use. 

“The increased use of e-cigarettes and the potential for easier access to marijuana as states consider its legalization for adults raises significant concern that more teens will begin to use marijuana,” he wrote. 

He also urged doctors to speak openly with teen patients and their parents about the dangers of both e-cigarettes and marijuana. 

“You will want to smoke out the detailed data and analyses in this article and then share the findings with your teen patients and their families to raise awareness of the increased risk of marijuana use when using e-cigarettes,” he wrote. 

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Kelly Burch Contrib.jpg

Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.