Vaporizers and e-cigarettes have been marketed as being highly effective ways of cessation from regular smoking. Although studies so far have shown them to in fact be effective means of weaning oneself off a tobacco addiction, they may be working too well, with recent research pointing to them making heavier drug use more likely.
Despite being controversial outside the addiction treatment world, the “gateway” hypothesis has become one of the most widely used models of drug use, providing mostly accurate information to help better tailor individual treatment plans.
In recent years, there has been a growing body of evidence suggesting that smokeless e-cigarettes may have more in common with regular cigarettes than we thought, if not worse. Due to e-cigs being perceived as safer, more young smokers are susceptible to trying them out, with more than a quarter of a million young adults trying e-cigs for the first time every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A recent study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, examined the role of nicotine as a gateway drug in young adults, finding them more likely to pick up e-smoking because they felt it was safer.
A Kandel’s study (named after Nobel prize winner Dr. Denise Kandel’s initial work on the gateway hypothesis and on the role of nicotine as a gateway drug in the 1970s) that utilized methods of molecular microbiology, epidemiology and psychology, found that non-smoking kids whom were introduced to e-cigs had an increased likelihood of developing an addiction, which in turn leaves them more likely to try other, more illicit drugs. Although other studies in the past have only found a correlation between e-cigs and illicit drug use in general, the results of the Kandel’s study suggested that they make one especially vulnerable to developing a cocaine addiction.
The common liability model
The reason for their increased likelihood of addiction is based on the common liability model; similar to the gateway hypothesis, it states that the multiple use of drugs reflects a “common liability” for further drug use. A simpler way of thinking about the common liability model is the “giving a mouse a cookie” argument, which essentially states that the more of something someone gets, the more they tend to want.
“The use of multiple drugs reflects a common liability for drug use and that addiction, rather than the use of a particular drug, increases the risk of progressing to the use of another drug. We found evidence that there is a specific biologic mechanism that explains the sequence from cigarettes to cocaine in the population,” said Eric R. Kandel, M.D., co-author of the study.
The Kandels found that nicotine did not only increase the likelihood of developing a cocaine dependency, but actually primed the brain to be more receptive to cocaine since the two drugs are chemically similar. They also found that concurrent use of the two drugs also has a synergistic effect, increasing the likelihood of addiction in both substances if abused.
Although the Kandels were cautionary that their results simply suggest this, and is by no means causal evidence that vaping is in fact a gateway drug, it would not hurt to at least be mindful of the potential risk when switching from regular cigarettes to electronic ones. The results of the Kandels study were not surprising considering that e-cigs carry much more concentrated amounts of nicotine than their more traditional counterparts. Also, the fact that cocaine (benzoylmethylecgonine) and nicotine both act on dopamine and monoamine receptors in the brain, it is not surprising that there is a correlation between the two drugs and addiction.
Caffeine is also in the same chemical family and is similar to cocaine, making it a possibility that it can lead to increases in the likelihood of developing a dependency if used with these drugs as well.
Sovereign Health’s team of expert staff is always mindful of the role that use of multiple substances play in the severity of addiction issues, providing a holistic approach in addition to treatment of co-occurring mental and behavioral health issues to treat all the underlying aspects of the person’s condition(s). If you would like more information, feel free to check the rest of our site or contact us today.
Written by Chase Beckwith, Sovereign Health Group writer