A study published March 3, 2021 in the Journal of Adolescent Health by Dr. Carol J. Boyd, et al. titled, “Cannabis, Vaping and Respiratory Symptoms in a Probability Sample of U.S. Youth” provides evidence that vaping (via electronic nicotine delivery systems, aka ENDS) is more likely to result in lung injury and/or respiratory disease symptoms in teens than those who smoke cigarettes or marijuana or those who vape nicotine.
The new research findings from the University of Michigan come from a study of thousands of adolescents ages 12 to 17 who self-reported their symptoms. It was concluded that adolescents were about twice as likely to report lung conditions and/or symptoms in the chest than those who used e-cigarettes or smoked. These results directly counter the often prevailing notion that smoking cigarettes or vaping nicotine is the most damaging to the lungs (of the options listed above).
Dr. Boyd, who was this study’s lead researcher and the University of Michigan’s School of Nursing Deborah J. Oakley Collegiate Professor Emerita, stated on the university’s website, “Without a doubt, cigarettes and e-cigarettes are unhealthy and not good for lungs. However, vaping marijuana appears even worse.”
The focus of their inquiry, according to Dr. Boyd and her colleague Philip Veliz, University of Michigan research assistant professor of nursing, was the association of unhealthy respiratory symptoms among teens currently (within 30 days) using cigarettes, e-cigarettes or cannabis and who had vaped cannabis within their lifetime.
The outcomes showed U.S. adolescents who reported vaping cannabis were nearly twice as likely to report “wheezing and whistling” in the chest than those who did not. Further, those who reported current smoking of cigarettes and cannabis were found to have some respiratory symptoms, such as dry cough, but most associations were not as significant when compared to vaping cannabis.
Dr. Boyd, who also directs the University of Michigan’s Center for Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking and Health, emphasized smoking cigarettes or marijuana or vaping nicotine aren’t damaging to an adolescent’s health. She said these products also produce harm to the lungs, but it is not as significant as vaping marijuana.
She concluded, “In short, it is all bad but if you also vape cannabis you have a greater number of unhealthy respiratory symptoms than if you just smoke cigarettes or marijuana, or vape e-cigarettes,” Boyd said. “Without a doubt, cigarettes and e-cigarettes are unhealthy and not good for lungs. However, vaping marijuana appears even worse.”
The researchers’ methods included Wave 4 from a national probability sample (N = 14,798) of adolescents (12–17 years), using Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study data. The reported retention rate was 88.4%.
To summarize the results, Dr. Boyd said “the odds of indicating ‘wheezing or whistling’ in the chest were roughly two times higher among those who had used cannabis in ENDS (adjusted odds ratio 1.81, 95% confidence interval 1.47–2.22). (And) neither e-cigarettes nor cigarettes had a significant association with all five respiratory symptoms in the fully adjusted models.”
It should be noted the researchers also found that an asthma diagnosis was most strongly associated with symptoms of future lung injury than cigarettes, e-cigarettes, smoking of marijuana or vaping marijuana.
The U.M. study supplies preliminary evidence that adolescents’ use of marijuana with ENDS (i.e., vaping) may produce significant negative health consequences. When one has lifetime cannabis use with ENDS, it was strongly associated with higher likelihood of respiratory symptoms.