Cannabis Vaping Triggers Respiratory Symptoms in Teens

Heidi Splete

March 09, 2021

Vaping cannabis significantly increased the risk of respiratory symptoms in adolescents, according to findings of a study based on a national sample of teens.

Most studies of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) use in teens have not addressed cannabis vaping, although e-cigarette– or vaping product use–associated lung injury (EVALI) has been predominately associated with cannabis products, wrote Carol J. Boyd, PhD, of the University of Michigan School of Nursing, Ann Arbor, and colleagues.

"At this time, relatively little is known about the population-level health consequences of adolescents' use of ENDS, including use with cannabis and controlling for a history of asthma," they said.

In a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the researchers identified 14,798 adolescents aged 12-17 years using Wave 4 data from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study. Of these, 17.6% had a baseline asthma diagnosis, 8.9% reported ever using cannabis in ENDS, and 4.7% reported any cannabis use. In addition, 4.2% reported current e-cigarette use, 3.1% reported current cigarette use, 51% were male, and 69.2% were white.

Any Cannabis Vaping Makes Impact

In a fully-adjusted model, teens who had ever vaped cannabis had higher odds of five respiratory symptoms in the past year, compared with those with no history of cannabis vaping: wheezing or whistling in the chest (adjusted odds ratio, 1.81); sleep disturbed by wheezing or whistling (AOR, 1.71); speech limited because of wheezing (AOR, 1.96); wheezy during and after exercise (AOR, 1.33), and a dry cough at night independent of a cold or chest infection (AOR, 1.26).

Neither e-cigarettes nor cigarettes were significantly associated with any of these five respiratory symptoms in the fully adjusted models. In addition, "past 30-day use of cigarettes, e-cigarettes and cannabis use were associated with some respiratory symptoms in bivariate analyses but not in the adjusted models," the researchers noted. In addition, the associations of an asthma diagnosis and respiratory symptoms had greater magnitudes than either cigarette, e-cigarette, and cannabis use or vaping cannabis with ENDS.

The study findings were limited by several factors including the inherent limitations of secondary database analysis, the researchers noted. "Another limitation is that co-use of cannabis and tobacco/nicotine was not assessed and, in the future, should be examined: Researchers have found that co-use is related to EVALI symptoms among young adults," they said.

However, the study is the first known to include ENDS product use and respiratory symptoms while accounting for baseline asthma, and an asthma diagnosis was even more strongly associated with all five respiratory symptoms, the researchers said.

The results suggest that "the inhalation of cannabis via vaping is associated with some pulmonary irritation and symptoms of lung diseases (both known and unknown)," that may be predictive of later EVALI, they concluded.

Product Details Aid in Diagnosis

"As we continue to see patients presenting with EVALI in pediatric hospitals, it is important for us to identify if there are specific products (or categories) that are more likely to cause it," said Brandon Seay, MD, FCCP, a pediatric pulmonologist and sleep specialist at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, in an interview. "When we are trying to diagnose EVALI, we should be asking appropriate questions about exposures to specific products to get the best answers. If we simply ask ‘Are you smoking e-cigarettes?' the patient may not [equate] e-cigarette smoking to vaping cannabis products," he said.

Seay said he was not surprised by the study findings. "A lot of the patients I see with EVALI have reported vaping THC products, and most of them also report that the products were mixed by a friend or an individual instead of being a commercially produced product," he noted. "This is not surprising, as THC is still illegal in most states and there would not be any commercially available products," he said. "The mixing of these products by individuals increases the risk of ingredients being more toxic or irritating to the lungs," Seay added. "This does highlight the need for more regulation of vaping products. As more states legalize marijuana, more of these products will become available, which will provide an opportunity for increased regulation, he said.

The take-home message for clinicians is to seek specific details from their young patients, Seay emphasized. "When we are educating our patients on the dangers of vaping/e-cigarettes, we need to make sure we are asking specifically which products they are using and know the terminology," he said. "The use of THC-containing products will be increasing across the country with more legalization, so we need to keep ourselves apprised of the different risks between THC- and nicotine-containing devices," he added.

As for additional research, it would be interesting to know whether patients were asked where they had gotten their products (commercially available products vs. those mixed by individuals) and explore any difference between the two, said Seay. "Also, as these products are relatively new to the market, compared to cigarettes, data on the longitudinal effects of vaping (nicotine and THC) over a long period of time, compared to traditional combustible cigarettes, will be needed," he said.

The study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and National Cancer Institute. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose.

Seay had no financial disclosures, but serves as a member of the CHEST Physician editorial board.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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