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E-cigarette use may be linked to an increased risk of depression, and the culprit could be nicotine. Getty Images
  • A new report suggests that vaping may increase the risk of depression.
  • Vaping has previously been linked to death and illness due to lung injury.
  • The antidepressant bupropion may help aid vaping cessation.

In a report published on December 4, 2019 in JAMA Network Open, researchers examined whether there’s any link between vaping and depression.

In the study, they examined data from 892,394 U.S. adults. The participants were randomly surveyed by telephone. The researchers asked them about their use of e-cigarettes and their history of depression.

When the researchers analyzed the data, they found that people who vaped — both current and former — were more likely to report a history of depression.

In addition, the more frequently a person vaped, the greater the chances were that they would have had depression.

The authors believe that nicotine might be the reason for this effect.

Exposure to nicotine over a long period of time can disrupt the cerebral dopamine pathway, increase stress sensitivity, and disrupt the coping mechanisms that normally help protect against depression, the authors say.

E-cigarettes also contain other contaminants, such as trace metals, which can affect the nervous system, potentially contributing to depression.

The authors further point out that e-cigarettes may also contain certain nitrosamines and volatile organic compounds commonly found in traditional tobacco products.

These substances are known to interfere with the metabolism of several psychiatric medications, reducing their levels in the blood.

This suggests that e-cigarettes might act in a similar way, potentially interfering with depression treatments.

But it wasn’t clear from the study if vaping was responsible for the participants’ depression or the other way around, the authors state. People with existing depression could be vaping because they’re depressed.

“Even though causation cannot be implied from this study, it’s concerning for me as a pediatrician and addiction medicine physician,” said Kenneth A. Zoucha, MD, assistant professor in the college of medicine and the department of psychiatry at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Dr. Zoucha, who wasn’t affiliated with the study, said the soaring number of high school youth and young adults using e-cigarettes is alarming and has been labeled an epidemic by the U.S. Surgeon General.

“My clinical experience treating youth with both depression and nicotine use by way of e-cigarettes mirrors this study,” he said. “Although this study looks at adults only and further longitudinal studies are needed to confirm causation, I believe this information gives us cause to act to further limit e-cigarette use by adolescents and young adults.”

Vaping has received a large amount of coverage in recent months due to its association with lung injury.

This condition has been dubbed EVALI — e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury. It’s believed to be caused by vitamin E acetate.

Vitamin E acetate is a thickener which is often added to unregulated cannabis oils.

It’s thought that vitamin E acetate might damage the lungs by triggering an inflammatory condition known as lipoid pneumonia.

As of December 3, 2019, there have been 2,291 cases of EVALI reported, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They’ve been reported in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In addition, there have been 48 confirmed deaths due to EVALI in 25 states and the District of Columbia.

E-liquids used in vaping products may potentially contain several other harmful contaminants as well, according to the U.S. Surgeon General, including:

  • tiny particles that can travel deep into the lungs
  • heavy metals
  • volatile organics compounds
  • flavorants like diacetyl, which have been associated with lung disease

Smokers of traditional cigarettes are well known to have difficulty with quitting smoking. In fact, one of the biggest problems they run into during smoking cessation is increased feelings of depression.

According to Jed Magen, DO, MS, an associate professor and chair of the department of psychiatry at Michigan State University, it’s likely that people who vape would experience this as well.

“Given that a lot of vapes have a pretty significant nicotine content,” Dr. Magen said, “it’s easy to get hooked and then have a very difficult time quitting, as people do with traditional cigarettes.”

Magen suggested the following for anyone who wants to quit vaping:

  • Try bupropion (Zyban) or varenicline (Chantix). These prescription medications are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help with smoking cessation.
  • Use nicotine gum. This is available over the counter and can be helpful as well.
  • Join a support group. “The more social and family support a person has the better,” Magen said.
  • Tell your doctor about any symptoms of depression. Treatment with an antidepressant medication may make it easier for you to quit vaping if you have depression. Magen notes that bupropion (Wellbutrin) is the only specific antidepressant medication also known to be effective for smoking cessation.