LifeHope Labs. Parental Advisory:
Vaping, THC, and Synthetic Cannabinoids
Parents and public health officials are rightfully concerned by adolescents’ use of vaping and e-cigarette products. Recently, the National Institute of Health (NIH News in Health, 2019) reported results from a 2018 Monitoring the Future survey of over 40,000 students. They found that approximately 37% of 12th graders reported vaping in 2018, compared with 28% in 2017. Use of vaping and e-cigarette products are linked to a 30% increase in a teenager’s likelihood of smoking. More concerning is a national wave of serious, yet unsolved vaping-related lung illnesses for people of all ages. In some cases, the complications have resulted in death (Center of Disease Control and Prevention, 2019). Vaping and e-cigarette devices are often marketed as sleek pens, as small as a flash-drive, that heat oils to an inhaled vapor. Depending on the product, they can produce little to no discernable plume and are available in fruit, mint and other flavors appealing to youth. Use continues to rise.
As though an increase in adolescent nicotine use and the possibility of lung-related illnesses weren’t enough to shake-up parents, teenagers aren’t just vaping nicotine and flavored oils. They are also vaping THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) too. THC is the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis or marijuana, and its potency is greater today than what parents may have experienced in the 1980s and ’90s. As put by Dr. Nora D. Volkow, Director of NIDA, the higher concentration of THC delivered to teenagers in vaping and e-cigarette devices intensifies the high and can increase the "likelihood of addiction and adverse medical consequences” (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019).
So, with the apparent health risks, why is vaping so appealing to teenagers? Many parents may recall concealing their own youthful experimentation with alcohol or marijuana. The difference with vaping THC is that it’s easier to keep hidden; there is little odor and no ash. However, the risks tied to youth use goes beyond vehicular collision, bad judgement or arrest. Notably, most patients presenting with vaping-related illnesses were vaping THC (New York Times, Marijuana and Vaping: Shadowy Past, Dangerous Present, 2019).
The 2018 Monitoring the Future survey indicated that among the 37% of 12th graders who self-reported vaping in the last year, 13% admitted using THC. That’s not a small percentage and the estimate is likely depressed owing to the seniors’ concerns about survey anonymity. Here is the stark reality for parents, while only 1 in 10 people who use marijuana will become addicted, starting use before the age 18 increases the rate of addiction to 1 in 6 (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2019).
Teenagers are confronted with THC oils and vaping pens traveling from regulated markets and a host of murkier products emerging from a growing, unregulated black market. The latter are cheaper and of unknown chemical composition, especially once heated and inhaled. For youth motivated to take the next-step in evading detection, there are also unregulated “synthetic” cannabinoids (meant to mimic the effects of organic cannabis) that introduce new levels of medical risk and are specifically designed to beat standard drug screening.
At LifeHope Labs, we recommend that the best starting place for concerned parents is always a conversation with your child on topics such as: drug abuse, consequences of use, and how to cope with peer-pressure. We encourage parents to share their concerns and promote an honest, ongoing dialogue, while setting firm expectations. If warning signs persist without a compelling alternative explanation, then parents should consider other necessary steps such as drug testing.
At LifeHope Labs, our drug testing kit provides a broad panel of synthetic cannabinoids as well as THC. As the test is done using LCMS confirmation technology (see website), our test’s sensitivity is higher than what is found in an instant test cup and we are better able to rule out cross-reactants and the possibility of false-positives. This provides parents with greater confidence in the accuracy of result. According to Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, “a kit from your neighborhood pharmacy might test negative for one drug while totally missing others” ("Should You Drug Test Your Child?"). We offer a superior product, discretion, medical expertise, and fast results. The cost is higher than an instant-cup, but the result is more certain.