Are vape pens, e-cigarettes and marijuana hash oil a danger to teens? —

Vape pens and hash oil sound like a match made in teenage stoner heaven. They let people consume marijuana so discreetly that some kids are supposedly doing it in the middle of class, with their teachers none the wiser.

That was the gist of a recent television report from Denver, epicenter of the ganja revolution, but the evidence was hardly ironclad. The story featured an interview with one student who claimed he saw others doing it, and a YouTube video of a college looking guy allegedly taking classroom hits from a vape pen.

Still, there is no doubt that the combination presents a new and difficult challenge to parents who want to keep their kids weed free. Vape pens are small and easy to hide, and when loaded with «hash oil» a generic name for concentrated THC don’t give off the telltale smoke and odor that has told generations of moms and dads that their kids are up to no good.

Vape pens, e cigarettes and e hookahs are different names for what is more or less the same thing a device that heats a solution, typically infused with nicotine, to produce a vapor that can be inhaled. Smokers often use them to wean themselves off tobacco.

The gadgets are quickly growing in popularity among teens the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that use among high schoolers doubled in a year’s time, to 10 percent which is worrisome enough when you’re talking about nicotine. But the potential to re purpose vape pens for illicit use is what really has parents and school officials concerned.

When Barrington District 220 administrators catch a student toting a vape pen, they send it to the police department so it can be tested for controlled substances (no positives yet, the police chief told me). Elmhurst’s York High School did find a few students using THC laden e cigarettes, prompting disciplinary action against the kids and a warning letter to parents.

Some states that allow recreational or medical marijuana are having second thoughts about hash oil.

Dozens of Californians have gone to burn centers after their homemade concoctions, made with the volatile chemical butane, blew up in their faces, prompting a bill to ban the substance. Even supermellow Colorado has proposed limiting the amount of hash oil a person can have.

Illinois will allow hash oil when medical marijuana goes on sale, something that’s expected to happen next year. One would expect some of that to be diverted to the illegal market if the experience of other states is any example. So when you pair that with the accelerating use of vape pens, just how worried should parents be?

The unsurprising and unsatisfying answer is that it’s hard to say.

Emily Anne McDonald, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Tobacco Control, Research and Education in San Francisco, has done some preliminary work in this area, finding that young marijuana users in New York City like vape pens for their novelty and stealthiness. She is seeking a grant to do a much more extensive study in Colorado, looking at how vaping intersects with tobacco use and traditional marijuana smoking.

«We have a million questions at this point, and there are very few researchers looking into it,» she said.

As for the health implications, the few scientific papers I could find on the subject found that vaporized THC is safe for medicinal use, preferable to inhaling smoke.

That’s also the position of the Marijuana Policy Project’s Chris Lindsey, who doesn’t buy the argument that hash oil’s high THC level makes it dangerous.

«If you don’t have a concentrated form, you make up for it in volume,» he said. «It’s a bit of a red herring.»

But Dr. Greg Teas, an addiction specialist at Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital, said the greater potency leads to a quicker and stronger intoxication, comparable, he said, to people snorting narcotic pain pills instead of taking them orally.

«From that perspective, it can only make more addicts over time,» he said.

Like so much in the new marijuana landscape, it will probably take years before we have a good idea of how vape pens and hash oil affect teens, if they affect them much at all. About half of today’s high school students use marijuana before graduation, according to the Monitoring the Future survey, so plenty of old fashioned consumption is already going on.

The well worn rules for parents still apply, Teas said. Keep an eye on your kid’s friends, grades and attitude, and if there is a noticeable change, start asking hard questions.

Oh, and one more thing If he seems to be spending a lot of time with a fancy pen in his mouth, you might want to check it out.


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