Marijuana Vaping More Common Among
Hispanic Teens

Jaleesa Baulkman

May 05, 2021

Hispanic adolescents were more likely to use e-cigarettes to vape marijuana than were their Black and White counterparts in 2020, according to a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Researchers found that 25.6% of Hispanic students reported vaping marijuana, compared to 19.4% of Black students and 18.2% of White students. The study, which is an analysis of 2017, 2018, and 2020 results from the National Youth Tobacco Survey, also revealed that increases in this recreational practice occurred among all racial and ethnic groups within those 3 years, with Hispanic students having the largest percent increase, 11.6%, followed by Black students at 8.8% and White students at 7.4%.

"The initial motivation [to do this study] was to gain a better understanding of the prevalence of use of marijuana in e-cigarettes among youth, particularly given the context of the 2019 outbreak of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use–associated lung injury (EVALI)," study author Christina Vaughan Watson, DrPH, health scientist at the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said in an interview.

The findings could help clinicians and physicians understand demographic variations among marijuana vapers and help inform targeted interventions for specific populations.

"Understanding demographic variations among those who are using marijuana in e-cigarettes can help inform evidenced-based interventions that may resonate with specific populations," Watson explained.

Margaret Thew, DNP, medical director of adolescent medicine at Children's Wisconsin in Milwaukee, who was not involved in the study, said in an interview that the findings were "eye opening" and revealed a pattern she hasn't seen before in her adolescent clinic.

"I would have thought African-American or non-Hispanic Blacks would've been a higher group of use, because when we screen kids that's what we tend to get from the population we see here," Ms. Thew said.

Ms. Thew said the findings also had made her reconsider her clinic's approach to screening adolescents for marijuana use as well as address possible language barriers.

"We are probably missing access to some of the kids that we may need to seek out," she explained. "I also thought it sends a good message that we need to direct some of our education probably a little differently, especially if it's a Hispanic population and English may not be the primary language."

Watson said more research is needed to assess why differences in marijuana use in e-cigarettes exist among youth.

Marijuana use in e-cigarettes has become increasingly popular among U.S. teens, with one in five students in grades 10 and 12 reporting vaping marijuana within the past year in a 2019 study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Watson and colleagues also found statistically significant increases in vaping marijuana, with 19.5% of students reporting smoking marijuana via e-cigarettes in 2020, compared to 11.1% of them vaping the drug in 2017. They believe the rise in marijuana vaping among youth may be attributed to states increasingly legalizing adult marijuana sales, which could impact ease of access and social acceptance.

Ms. Thew believes the rise in marijuana vaping among youth can be attributed to the legalization of marijuana, which may send "a message to adolescents that it must be safe for them to use," as well as the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes.

In fact, as of April 2021, marijuana is legal for adults in 16 states and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, medical marijuana is legal in 36 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"I mean, there's just definitely been a lot more use of [e-cigarettes]. Vaping and things like that definitely took off between 2019 and 2020," Ms. Thew explained. "And I think marijuana use in itself is going up tremendously, I think more kids who would have used alcohol in the past use weed."

Although public attitudes toward marijuana have relaxed, previous studies have linked it to memory dysfunction, as well as long-term cognitive effects that can interfere with perception of time and motor function. However, studies also have shown that cannabis use can combat age-related cognitive decline and help with pain reduction.

However, when it comes to adolescents, Watson and colleagues said e-cigarette use among youth and young adults is unsafe, regardless of the substances used in these products, including marijuana. Furthermore, they said marijuana use can lead to higher risks of more problematic use later in life, adding that evidence-based strategies to reduce marijuana use in e-cigarettes are important for protecting young people.

The study author and experts disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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

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