People are Vaping Caffeine—But Why?

For better or for worse, vaping has become all the rage lately — not only is an entire generation of young people growing up with nicotine addictions thanks to the success of companies like Juul, but people are also vaping marijuana in record numbers as a result of the proliferation of THC cartridges, which are distributed both in the states where marijuana has been legalized and on the black market where it has not. Seeking to capitalize on this trend, various companies have introduced products that allow users to vape a variety of substances, including vitamin blends and melatonin. Though the long-term effects of vaping various substances is currently poorly-understood, companies are advertising products that allow users to vape some common, legal drugs, like caffeine. Eagle Energy, for instance, sells a vape pen that delivers caffeine directly into the lungs, causing the drug to reach the bloodstream within minutes, much faster than the usual routes of administration like coffee and tea.

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Caffeine is widely considered to be one of the safest drugs available, with 90 percent of Americans consuming the stimulant in some form. Caffeine is known for enhancing alertness and preventing tiredness, and while most side effects are minor and uncommon, it can be dangerous in very high doses. While Eagle Energy advertises its product as providing “natural, plant-based energy,” it’s important to keep in mind that caffeine is still technically classified as a drug, even though it is derived from natural ingredients, and the extremely rapid route of administration caused by vaping may lead users to experience the effects of the caffeine more rapidly than intended.

That being said, Eagle Energy goes to great lengths to convince potential customers that its product is safe. On the FAQ page of the company’s website, representatives from Eagle Energy claim that their product is not harmful, especially relative to nicotine vape pens, as the plant-based ingredients are vaporized at a lower temperature than nicotine is and as such the vapor is gentler on the lungs. Eagle Energy also claims that as their product delivers caffeine via vapor, the effects of caffeine are felt in five minutes and last for about an hour, whereas ingesting caffeine via energy drinks takes a half hour for the effects to be felt, and the effects last for five hours or more. As such, Eagle Energy argues that inhaling caffeine rather than ingesting it allows for more precise control of how much users are consuming.

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Experts, however, worry that the rising popularity of vape devices for vitamins, melatonin, and caffeine may draw people to start vaping nicotine. While the CDC has linked the recent outbreaks of lung illnesses with vitamin E acetate, a compound found in illicit THC cartridges, experts warn that more research needs to be done to determine what the long-term effects of vaping are, and as such they cannot as-of-yet be considered with certainty to be completely safe. Experts also warn that the stimulating effects of vape products may be a placebo, as caffeine vape pens may not deliver enough caffeine to cause a stimulating effect.

For these reasons and more, it’s likely best to just stick with tea or coffee to get your caffeine fix, at least until more is known about vaping caffeine and what the research says the effects of doing so are.


Is Vaping Safer than Smoking?

When e-cigarettes were first introduced to the American public, they were marketed in large part as a safe tobacco-cessation aid, promising to help people quit smoking by allowing them to gradually reduce their nicotine intake over time. E-cigarettes and vaping generally were also marketed as healthier alternatives to cigarettes, as e-cigarette vapor does not contain much of the same tar and other harmful chemicals as cigarette smoke. In fact, Juul, one of the world’s largest e-cigarette companies, was found to have directly marketed to high-school kids, leveraging designs and flavors meant to appeal to teens and telling them that their products were “totally safe.” E-cigarette use has exploded in popularity in particular among young people, threatening decades of work done by the government to dissuade the younger generation from using recreational drugs like nicotine.

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While e-cigarettes have long been assumed to be safe due to the lack of combustion involved, recent events have introduced doubt about the safety of these devices. A few months ago, a string of vaping-related hospitalizations, some of which led to death, renewed fears that vaping is in fact more dangerous than companies like Juul have let on. In the aftermath of these mysterious illnesses, Walmart decided to stop selling e-cigarette devices, and some states even moved to ban flavored vaping products in an effort to minimize use among children and teenagers. The federal government has contemplated banning the sale of flavored e-cigarette ingredients as well, but has not yet done so. Eventually, the CDC tied the incidences of sudden, severe lung illness to counterfeit THC cartridges that were distributed in the black market, but an overall attitude of skepticism towards vaping in general persisted. Specifically, the researchers found that the ingredient vitamin E acetate, which is used as an additive to alter the consistency of THC oil, was to blame in this particular phenomenon.

While this year’s major health scare related to vaping turned out to be limited to counterfeit products, perceptions about the dangers of vaping persist and are supported by new evidence that suggests vaping can be responsible for some long-term illnesses. Specifically, an article published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine details a large study that compared the lungs of people who used e-cigarettes with cigarette smokers and those who did not consume nicotine over three years. Unsurprisingly, the last group had the lowest risk of developing a lung illness, but while e-cigarettes were found to cause problems in their own right, they were nonetheless considered safer and healthier than smoking.

“E-cigarettes should not be recommended.”

While differing in severity, the long-term health complications associated with vaping are similar to those associated with smoking cigarettes, and include chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The most dangerous form of nicotine consumption mentioned in the study was “dual use,” which is a combination of vaping and smoking, as not only does this practice maximize the amount of nicotine one consumes but it also exposes the lungs to the most amount of smoke or vapor. Dual use is the most common pattern of use the researchers found, signalling trouble for the millions of teenagers whose nicotine addictions are fueled by multiple vectors of drug consumption. The results of the three-year study corroborated animal studies on the effects of vapor on the lungs. Worryingly, the study also found that certain harmful ingredients, like propylene glycol, diacetyl, and even metals were present at a higher concentration in e-cigarette vapor than in combusted cigarette smoke. 

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Overall, the study is extremely critical of e-cigarettes, suggesting they are only valuable in a limited number of cases, and it concludes with the line “E-cigarettes should not be recommended.” In a small number of cases, e-cigarettes can be a good option for people who are trying to quit smoking as long as they use the devices with discipline and respect. While still harmful, e-cigarette vapor is less harmful than smoke, and vaping formulas can be adjusted over time to gradually reduce their nicotine content. That being said, as a result of the high prevalence of “dual use,” using e-cigarettes while trying to quit smoking can backfire, and indeed for most people using an e-cigarette is connected with an even lower chance of successfully quitting smoking. Other tobacco cessation aids, like nicotine-infused chewing gum or skin patches, are more effective in helping people quit and pose no threat to the health and safety of the lungs.

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Marijuana Use Linked with Heart Problems and Increased Risk of Stroke

Marijuana has long been one of the world’s most frequently used recreational drugs, and the public perceives the drug to be relatively safe, leading to its legalization in several US states as well as Canada. However, due in large part to its federal classification as a schedule I substance, available research on the health effects of the drug is limited, as scientists have long had severely restricted access to the substance. As its use continues to develop across multiple demographics, however, scientists are escalating their research of marijuana and its effects. It’s long been understood that marijuana use during adolescence can lead to lifelong psychological problems, including problems with memory and diminished IQ. However, recent research is uncovering marijuana’s negative effects on other parts of the body including the lungs, and surprisingly, the heart.

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Marijuana is well-known for causing among its effects changes in heart rhythm. As the drug’s effects are felt for roughly three hours when smoked, these changes are temporary, and heart function returns to normal after the drug wears off. However, arrhythmia experienced during marijuana use can cause greater circulatory problems afterwards, particularly in heavy users. As such, sufferers of cannabis use disorder, who use the drug frequently and compulsively, are at increased risk of being hospitalized for arrhythmia. Though arrhythmia, a condition in which the heart’s rhythm is disturbed and irregular, is often benign, it can also lead to life-threatening complications. Lower doses of marijuana are associated with a too-fast heartbeat, whereas higher doses are linked with a too-slow heartbeat. The concern about the link between arrhythmia and marijuana use is particularly strong for young people, who in the study were shown to have the greatest risk of hospitalization.

While some methods of consuming marijuana are less dangerous than others, the safest and healthiest option is to avoid using recreational drugs altogether.

In addition to being linked with heart rhythm problems, marijuana use has also been shown to be linked with an increased risk of stroke, with frequent marijuana users being more than twice as likely to suffer a stroke compared to non-users. Again, this is true even in young people, who normally are much less likely to suffer a stroke than older people. This risk is compounded among people who use marijuana in addition to tobacco and have other health problems, including high blood pressure, that are known to increase one’s risk of stroke. Though the study does not establish a direct causal relationship between using marijuana and suffering a stroke, previous studies have shown that marijuana use leads to increased blood clotting and a narrowing of the arteries, suggesting a likely explanation.

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Researchers behind both studies, which are scheduled to be presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association this Saturday, November 16th, conclude that doctors should ask patients who have suffered a stroke or have heart problems whether they use marijuana so as to better prepare treatment options. As the studies have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, their findings are considered preliminary. Though the American Heart Association takes no position on the legalization of marijuana, it recommends that public health protections such as age restrictions on purchasing the drug and smoke-free air laws be put into place.

Disturbing evidence about the negative health effects of marijuana also recently arose in the aftermath of a spate of hospitalizations in connection with a series of mysterious vaping-related lung injuries, some of which lead to death. Recently, the CDC revealed that the ingredient believed to cause these emergencies is Vitamin E acetate, a chemical sometimes added to THC vape products to change the consistency of the oil, particularly on the black market. Of course, smoking marijuana also harms the respiratory system, as tar accumulates inside the lungs and carcinogens enter the body. While some methods of consuming marijuana are less dangerous than others, the safest and healthiest option is to avoid using recreational drugs altogether.


FDA Failed to Act on E-Cigarette Regulations

The F.D.A. is a longstanding American institution which is trusted to ensure that the products available to the American consumer are safe and effective. But the recent emergence of more than a thousand lung illnesses related to e-cigarette and vape pen use has raised questions about the organization’s effectiveness in ensuring the safety of the new category of products. While e-cigarettes have been around for more than ten years, they have long been presumed to be safe despite a lack of thorough scientific research, and in recent months this presumption of safety has been called into question. In response to the outbreak of vaping-related illnesses, some of which have been deadly, journalists have conducted interviews with current and former government officials and public health experts to reveal a myriad number of factors, from lobbying to fears of political ramifications to excessive bureaucracy, that paralyzed the F.D.A. and enabled the beginning of what may very well become a long-lasting public health crisis.

Though the general public has only recently come to understand the serious health complications posed by vaping, public health officials have warned of this risk as early as 2013, with limited success. Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, former director of the F.D.A., issued a public warning that year about the rise of vaping, the fact that potential health issues were as-of-then unknown, and in particular the risk of developing nicotine addiction vaping posed to adolescents. The F.D.A., however, was unable to regulate the burgeoning industry, as two e-cigarette companies successfully sued the F.D.A for treating the devices as drugs rather than as tobacco products, which are subject to less stringent regulations. At the time, the Obama administration was more focused on the rollout of the Affordable Care Act than on other regulations, and in Obama’s last year in office, his administration rejected an F.D.A. proposal to ban flavored e-cigarettes, amidst intense lobbying from the industry.

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President Trump’s director of the F.D.A., Dr. Scott Gottleib, who had previously served on the board of a chain of vaping lounges, granted a four-year extension to e-cigarette companies before they had to prove that the public benefits of their products outweigh their risks, creating an opportunity for companies like Juul to flourish. Dr. Frieden described this extension as “public health malpractice,” as the addictive potential of nicotine and e-cigarettes’ appeal to young people was by then already well-known. Unlike most public health experts, Dr. Gottleib saw e-cigarettes as having potential to become valuable smoking cessation tools, rather than as a gateway to nicotine addiction and other tobacco products. And when it comes to vaping T.H.C., the active ingredient in marijuana, the F.D.A. is virtually silent, as the drug is still illegal at a federal level, and the rise in popularity of this method for getting high has been rapid.

In the aftermath of the spate of vaping-related illnesses, the F.D.A. has finally announced an intention to ban flavored e-cigarettes, but faces an uphill battle in doing so, as the industry vehemently opposes this sort of regulation. However, a federal judge recently overturned Dr. Gottleib’s four-year extension, meaning e-cigarette companies will have to demonstrate the public benefit of their products sooner than they previously thought. Though e-cigarette companies claim their products offer a less harmful alternative to cigarettes, the continuing rise of e-cigarette use among teenagers threatens to undermine this argument, as regulators are likely to believe the risk of developing deadly lung illnesses outweighs the benefits of the technology as a smoking-cessation tool. But for now, e-cigarettes remain on the market, in most states largely unregulated, even as they continue to pose a serious risk to health and life, which is sure to get worse as time goes on unless action is taken.

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Health Scares Spell Trouble for Vaping Industry

Recently, a string of vaping-related hospitalizations made headlines and led to growing concerns about the safety of e-cigarettes marketed as healthier alternatives to cigarettes and other tobacco products. In the aftermath of this news, a number of states have moved to ban flavored vaping products, and the federal government even contemplated the idea of banning all flavors of vapor except tobacco nationwide. This sudden spike in concern has led to problems for the vaping industry, as blame is being placed squarely on the manufacturers of nicotine-containing products for the public health epidemic, and as the growing popularity of vaping among teenagers and young people threatens to undo the work of several decades of public campaigns aimed at curbing nicotine addiction.

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Juul, a brand which has become synonymous with vaping as it controls roughly 70% of the e-cigarette market, recently saw a change of leadership as it replaced its CEO with a former tobacco executive. A sudden change in leadership is never a good sign for a company, particularly one as large as Juul, and this news comes amidst other troubling developments for the company. Recently, the F.D.A. claimed that Juul broke the law by implying that e-cigarettes were safer than traditional cigarettes despite the lack of scientific evidence concerning the long-term health effects of using the products. Even more disconcertingly, the F.D.A found that Juul was marketing their products to teenagers in high schools as part of a campaign ostensibly targeted at reducing tobacco use by young people. Juul has said that it intends on fully cooperating with the F.D.A.’s regulations, and has announced it will not fight a proposed ban on flavored nicotine cartridges. Next year, e-cigarettes are scheduled to be banned in San Francisco, and Juul is considering whether or not they should abandon a ballot initiative to overturn the ban.

In order to stay on the market in the United States, Juul and other similar companies have to be able to prove that their products promote public health more than they harm it, which is growing increasingly difficult as the news reports of vaping-related hospitalizations and an epidemic of nicotine addiction in young people. While initially envisioned as a tool to help people quit smoking, vaping has instead become a fashionable trend, and many who are addicted to nicotine have no history of smoking cigarettes. The rise in popularity of e-cigarettes has been explosive, and while F.D.A. regulations concerning the sale of nicotine products have long been in effect, regulatory bodies have yet to catch up with the specific public health problems that e-cigarettes in particular pose. 

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Health professionals across the country are in virtual consensus in advising against the use of e-cigarettes, except as replacements for cigarettes as smoking cessation devices. Even then, there are nicotine delivery systems, such as chewing gum and patches, that are likely safer than vaping as they do not involve any inhalation of chemicals. The director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, said that e-cigarettes should be clinically tested to determine whether they are effective as smoking cessation tools, and if they are they should only be available by prescription, which is the same standard to which other potentially dangerous drugs are held.

While recent develops certainly don’t bode well for the e-cigarette industry, it’s difficult to make any concrete predictions about the fate of affected companies. Famously, the tobacco industry spent millions of dollars lobbying against the notion that cigarettes cause cancer and other health problems, and were very successful in doing so for several years. Vaping has become so widespread that its popularity perhaps even eclipses that of the tobacco products that preceded it, and as a result, the industry has a lot of money to spend on resisting regulatory efforts. However, the government has fought Big Tobacco before, pioneering widespread public health campaigns in an attempt to stop tobacco use, and as such has plenty of relevant experience to apply to fighting Juul and similar companies. Meanwhile, a meaningful segment of an entire generation of young people who otherwise would not have been exposed to nicotine are addicted to vaping, and only time will tell how they will be able to get their nicotine fix in the years to come.