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The number of high school seniors who have tried vaping marijuana has doubled in the past 2 years. Getty Images
  • Federal officials report that the rate of high school seniors vaping marijuana has doubled in the past 2 years.
  • Health experts say they’re concerned because of the effects cannabis can have on the brain of a person younger than 25.
  • They also point out that marijuana products today are more potent than they were decades ago.

While teenagers smoking marijuana is nothing new, a fresh report by the federal government says more teens say they’re vaping cannabis more frequently.

This is of concern to health experts, considering the thousands of people who have been injured by black market vaping products this year.

That’s on top of concerns about what regular cannabis consumption can do to the still-developing young mind.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Monitoring the Future survey report released this week, the rates of high school seniors vaping marijuana at least once in the past year has more than doubled over the past 2 years.

Nearly 21 percent of surveyed 12th graders report vaping at least once while 10th graders are close behind at 19 percent. About 7 percent of eighth graders also report vaping marijuana at least once within the past year.

While the report has regularly tracked marijuana and other illicit drug use, this was the first time it measured how many teens vape marijuana daily. It found about 3.5 percent of high school seniors do so and 3 percent of sophomores do as well.

But the report did state that fewer high school seniors say they are using prescription drugs such as opioid pain relievers like Vicodin and the ADHD medication Adderall.

“We are heartened to see the continuing decline in the use of many drugs, particularly non-medical use of prescription opioids,” Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a statement. “However, teens are clearly attracted to vaping products, which are often concentrated amounts of drugs disguised as electronic gadgets. Their growing popularity threatens to undo years of progress protecting the health of adolescents in the U.S.”

Besides vaping marijuana, more teens report vaping nicotine, with nearly 12 percent saying they did so daily.

They listed their top reasons for nicotine vaping as flavor, experimentation, social reasons, and simply “to feel good.”

In addition, the number of high school seniors who say they vape because they’re addicted more than doubled to above 8 percent.

“It is important to note that not all teens know what is in the products they are vaping,” the report says.

Dr. Osita Onugha is an assistant professor of thoracic surgical oncology and director of the Surgical Innovation Lab at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

He says that while vaping is a relatively new technology that was initially marketed to help with smoking cessation, it’s since taken on a different life.

“It is now being marketed to elementary and high school kids as a way of making smoking ‘cool,’” Onugha told Healthline.

Teen use of marijuana is concerning to health experts because studies have shown that it can negatively impact the developing brain. While 18 years old may be considered the legal age of adulthood, research points that the human brain continues to develop until the age of 25.

Even though the U.S. government classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance — the strictest classification available — a growing number of states allow residents to purchase and consume different formations of marijuana for either medical or recreational purposes.

That has led to many states adopting a “delay” drug education messaging, meaning they encourage children not to say no to cannabis but to wait until they’re older to give it a try.

With this increasing legality across the United States, the market for products has grown exponentially larger and the products themselves have become more concentrated.

Unlike the marijuana smoked in the 1960s, marijuana today has been developed to be more potent and effective, with the levels of tetrahydrocannabinol — the psychoactive chemical that naturally occurs in cannabis, better known as THC — increasing exponentially.

A study published in February in the European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience — and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse — found that, over the past decade, the THC in cannabis in Europe and the United States nearly doubled from almost 9 percent to 17 percent. More strikingly, the content in hash oil concentrates, or those used in vaping cartridges, increased from about 7 percent to more than 55 percent.

“These trends in the last decade suggest that cannabis is becoming an increasingly harmful product in the USA and Europe,” stated the researchers in that study.

Besides long-term developmental issues, the recent rash of vaping-related injuries and deaths across the country have health experts raising red flags.

This week, federal officials say the current count of people injured by vaping products has surpassed 2,500. That also involved 54 people who died of suspected vaping-related causes.

Federal officials say black market cannabis products have played a central role, namely due to the use of vitamin E acetate in those products.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced today the results of an operation dubbed “Operation Vapor Lock.”

In it, the two agencies took over 44 websites that advertised the sale of vaping cartridges containing THC.

“In the wake of recent injuries and deaths caused by vaping products, these seizures send a message to anyone seeking to capitalize on this dangerous trend,” Uttam Dhillon, the acting DEA administrator, said in a statement.

Onugha says parents should be concerned about the reports of children being admitted to intensive care units who require ventilatory support because vaping affects a person’s lungs much differently than consuming cannabis flowers via a pipe, joint, or bong.

“The difference between vaping and a bong is that vaping requires a liquid to be instilled into the vaping device, which is then heated to create smoke to be inhaled,” he said. “In addition to marijuana, the vaping liquid has other compounds that have been linked to the severe acute respiratory distress response seen in kids that have caused ICU admission and in some patients’ death.”