We live in a time where it’s not unusual to walk through a skittles scented cloud (or some other ridiculously creative flavor) while out at a park or shopping center. Open up your explore page on Instagram and you’ll probably see at least four vape trick videos. There are even competitions for things like who can blow the most smoke O-rings or the biggest vape cloud. In a drug detox program, addicts are usually encouraged to continue their vaping habits (if they harbor any) while they detox from their drug of choice to help maintain familiarity and relieve stress. But is it dangerous?
The Danger is Relative
Most vape users are former cigarette smokers. Their reasons for vaping usually fall in line with their desire to stop smoking cigarettes. So then the dangers of vaping become relative to the dangers of smoking cigarettes.
The primary difference between cigarettes and vaporizers is combustion. Cigarettes contain tobacco and thousands of other harmful ingredients that are combusted for delivery. The contents are lit, burned, and inhaled in the form of smoke. The majority of vaporizers heat up their contents without combustion, which automatically eliminates that portion of the danger. Instead of inhaling smoke, vape users inhale vapor. However, while the method of vaping is less harmful than smoking, vape users are still inhaling chemicals that are not good for them.
Cigarettes contain thousands of ingredients, all of which are harmful to inhale to some degree. Vapes, on the other hand, are used with something called vape juice or e-cigarette liquid. The base of the juice is propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, or a combination of both. The juice also includes nicotine and flavoring. This recipe already sounds a lot less harmful than cigarettes solely based on the amount of ingredients. But people forget that those ingredients are still foreign objects entering your body. Speaking of, just like smoke, vapor enters your body through your respiratory system. Those appealing flavorings don’t just come into contact with your mouth and taste buds. They also pass through your respiratory system and are known to cause irritation.
“The flavorings in vape juice are the same flavorings that are added to food, so they’re safe to consume.” That’s true. These are the same flavorings that the FDA has approved as safe to consume. However, the methods of consuming these flavorings are completely different when vaping than when eating. Inhalation is very different than ingestion. Instead of passing through the digestive system, the chemical flavorings of vape juice pass through the respiratory system when consumed through a vape. High exposure to the chemicals in some flavorings can cause respiratory irritation and inflammation. This can lead to the same chronic cough and throat issues of cigarettes.
Many people are distracted by both the creative tastes and the simplicity of vape juice. But comparing the few ingredients in vape juice to the thousands of ingredients in cigarettes isn’t exactly fair because there is a lot of variation in the amount of chemicals in vape flavorings. And again, they’re all chemicals. Cinnamaldehyde is not cinnamon. Vanillin is not vanilla. Vape flavorings also contain diacetyl and acetyl propionyl, which can also cause respiratory irritation along with lung damage.
There hasn’t been a lot of research on the dangers of chronic inhalation of these chemicals, simply because vapes have only been in the spotlight since the mid-2000s. However, that unknown factor is dangerous in and of itself. Is it really safe to be inhaling something that we’re still unsure about?
One thing that cigarettes and vapes do have in common is the presence of nicotine. Nicotine is the addictive agent in cigarette tobacco. When smoked, it rushes to the brain through the bloodstream and produces an ultra-fast reward feeling. That reward feeling is what causes the addiction. Your brain will crave it again and again, just as with many other addictive drugs. While cigarettes contain many other things that a smoker will crave, nicotine and its addictive qualities are still present in vapes. This can cause dependency and addiction.
Addiction is harmful no matter the object. However, a vape dependency might still seem less dangerous than a cigarette dependency. But again, this is where that unknown factor of vaping comes into play. Dependency leads to chronic use. But the long-term effects of chronic use have not been proven. So, there’s no way to know yet how dangerous that dependency can be.
Vaping in Recovery
Tackling an alcohol or drug addiction is hard enough on its own without also combatting a vape or cigarette addiction. This is the reason cigarettes and vapes are generally allowed into recovery and detox facilities. A vape user may find comfort in the actual process of vaping. It allows him to step outside and take a moment for himself, which is important in recovery. It may also be a method of relieving stress for some addicts. Vaping may be more helpful than harmful in recovery for these reasons, but only for the short-term moment.
In the long run, a vaping addiction is still an addiction. While it may not be as detrimental as an alcohol or heroin addiction, the dependency still takes away from a person’s strength in himself because he needs that vape in order to feel normal. In extreme cases, the dependency might be a trigger for relapse if the process of vaping reminds the recovered addict of other dependencies.
Social Aspects of Vaping
It’s obvious that vaping is more socially accepted than smoking cigarettes. Some establishments even allow vaping indoors. The general social acceptance of vaping makes it easier for people to talk and connect while vaping as opposed to having to excuse yourself to a secluded area to smoke a cigarette. But how does that play into recovery?
A lot of recovered addicts smoke cigarettes. It’s almost like it comes with the territory. But today, a lot of those addicts are turning to vaping as a less harmful alternative. Either way, smokers and vapers can connect and bond during breaks from meetings and groups or just as they step outside throughout the day. Vaping provides a means for building fellowship with other recovering addicts. This is one major benefit for vape users. However, the fellowship building aspect of vaping does not make up for the potential health risks simply because they’re two completely different factors. From a pure health standpoint, it is not a good idea for non-smokers to pick up vaping as a means to connect and feel included. However, for some recovering addicts (especially those in early recovery), that fellowship and sense of inclusion can be significantly instrumental in keeping them sober and mentally well. For these people, it might benefit them to pick up vaping for the short-term as long as they remain cognizant of the health and addiction risks of vaping.
So… is vaping dangerous?
There are definitely mixed reviews on vaping. But what it ultimately comes down to is inhaling something into your lungs that isn’t oxygen is obviously not going to be good for you, even if it does taste and smell like pancakes topped with blueberry syrup and sour sugar. The habit may not be as insidious as a heroin addiction, but it can still cause harm and probably shouldn’t be picked up, especially if it isn’t even to help fight a cigarette addiction. It’s important to remember that healthy living generally doesn’t include inhaling unnatural chemicals.
As of right now, the dangers of vaping aren’t enough for vape addictions to require immediate attention or treatment. But if you or someone you know is struggling with a more threatening drug or alcohol addiction, call us at 855-737-7363. Our addiction specialists can help.