Recent University of Michigan studies have found that vaping marijuana could be more harmful to teens than vaping or smoking nicotine.

The conventional narrative is that nicotine causes more damage to the lungs, but UM researchers found that vaping cannabis puts teens at greater risk for respiratory symptoms indicative of lung injury.

“I thought that e-cigarettes (vaping nicotine) would be the nicotine product most strongly associated with worrisome respiratory symptoms,” said the study’s principal investigator, Carol Boyd, the Deborah J. Oakley Collegiate Professor Emerita at the UM School of Nursing, in a news release.

“Our data challenges the assumption that smoking cigarettes or vaping nicotine is the most harmful to the lungs. If we control for vaping cannabis in our analyses, we find there is a weaker relationship between e-cigarette or cigarette use and respiratory symptoms when compared to vaping cannabis.”

Boyd and Philip Veliz, a UM research assistant professor of nursing, looked at self-reported symptoms from a sample of 12- to 17-year-olds to explore the association of unhealthy respiratory symptoms among those currently using cigarettes, e-cigarettes or cannabis and who had vaped cannabis within their lifetime.

The teens expressed symptoms of wheezing and whistling in the chest; disturbed sleep; speech limited by wheezing; wheezing during or after exercise; and dry coughing at night not associated with chest illness or infection.

Those who vaped marijuana were about twice as likely to report wheezing and whistling in the chest than those who did not.

“In short, it is all bad but if you also vape cannabis you have a greater number of unhealthy respiratory symptoms than if you just smoke cigarettes or marijuana, or vape e-cigarettes,” Boyd said. “Without a doubt, cigarettes and e-cigarettes are unhealthy and not good for lungs. However, vaping marijuana appears even worse.”

To combat the misconception that vaping marijuana is a healthier choice and to counter advertisements from vaping and nicotine companies, Boyd urged the public health community to develop equally engaging social marketing messages.

“I have parents tell me that “at least my teenager uses vaped cannabis [not smoked]”. The implication is that the vaping is healthier than smoking marijuana,” Boyd said.

Veliz said future studies should look at the effects of both vaping cannabis and smoking cigarettes.

“It may be the combination … is what leads to the high rates of respiratory symptoms among youthful marijuana vapers,” he said.

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