TORONTO — The prevalence of cannabis vaping among teens in Canada and the United States has doubled in the last seven years, a new study has found.
The study was led by Australian researchers and was published on Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The researchers conducted a meta-analysis looking at 17 studies conducted between 2003 and 2020, involving a total of 198,845 North American adolescents 18 years of age or younger.
The researchers found that between 2013 and 2016, 6.1 per cent of middle and high school students had tried vaping cannabis at least once in their life. But in 2019 and 2020, that figure was 13.6 per cent.
The increase in prevalence was found to be consistent across grades, with older students having the highest prevalence of cannabis vaping. From 2013-2016, the prevalence of lifetime cannabis vaping was 14.6 per cent for Grade 12 students. In 2019-2020, that number was 28.1 per cent.
For Grade 10 students, 10.5 per cent reported having tried vaping cannabis in 2013-2016 while the prevalence in 2012-2020 was 22.9 per cent. Among students in Grades 6 to 9, the prevalence was 3.4 per cent in 2013-2016 and 7.2 per cent in 2019-2020.
The data also suggests that the number of teens who regularly vape cannabis is increasing. Among students in all grades, only 1.4 per cent of those surveyed between 2013 and 2016 reported vaping cannabis in the previous 30 days. In 2019-2020, that figure was 8.4 per cent.
The authors say that widening access to cannabis vaping products through the legalization of cannabis in Canada and many U.S. states could explain this increase. They also suggest that adolescent use of nicotine vaping products could be a gateway drug for cannabis vaping.
Vaping devices, also known as e-cigarettes, were initially marketed as a smoking cessation device for adults but have exploded in popularity among teens in the last decade. Most vaping devices are designed to heat nicotine-containing flavoured liquids, but they can also be used to heat and vaporize dried cannabis herbs or cannabis oil.
“Existing preventive measures should focus on both smoking and vaping cannabis and develop specific health messages for vaping cannabis by highlighting the potential harms of using highly potent cannabis vaping products,” the authors wrote.
Vaping cannabis is also perceived to be healthier than smoking cannabis due to the lower exposure of combustion particles, the authors say.
However, cannabis vaping is not without its own health risks. A U.S. study from 2021 found that adolescent cannabis vaping was associated with a nearly two-fold increase in respiratory symptoms, while several other studies have found that heavy cannabis use in adolescence was associated with poorer cognitive development.
On top of all this, many cannabis vapers are choosing to use cannabis oils, which are far more potent, rather than dried herbs.
“With increasing changes in cannabis policy and legalization of adult use, the increasing prevalence of adolescent cannabis vaping indicates a need for more studies to understand the potential harms,” the authors wrote.
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