More than just vapor: Doctors weigh in on vaping THC vs. Nicotine

VIDEO: More than just vapor: Doctors weigh in on vaping THC vs. Nicotine

LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - It’s a new phenomena that has health care experts and providers searching for answers - a recent surge in illness associated with e-cigarettes and vaping.

A big driving force behind the phenomena is using vaping to stop smoking. You keep the nicotine and the look and feel of a cigarette and lose the harmful combustion and other toxic effects.

At least that’s what we thought.

“Now we are seeing with more and more experience we have with the vaping, there are risks associated with vaping as well,” said Dr. Gilbert Berdine. “So, there are no free lunches.”

Dr. Gilbert Berdine is an associate professor of medicine at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center Department of Internal Medicine. His studies and care now includes combating the effects of vaping, but you have to understand why it’s done.

He says satisfying a nicotine craving is part of it but not all.

“Nicotine addiction is real, but it’s not the only reason people have trouble giving up cigarettes,” said Dr. Berdine. “One of the reasons vaping has become so popular is because it’s a substitute for the behavior people enjoy.”

The behavioral substitute has evolved from just an electric cigarette to something more, with flavors and even more substances like THC.

“Up till now, THC was thought to be a medically benign product, which is why it’s been legalized,” said Dr. Berdine. “Nicotine and tobacco on the other hand have well known harmful medical effects."

Dr. Berdine says there are theories about THC inhalation, how it’s dissolved or the oil itself being part of the harmful effects of vaping, but even without it, nicotine itself can have a harmful hold on you.

“But people really have a difficult time letting it go,” said Dr. Christopher Townsend. “I would say it’s at the top in terms of chemicals that people can become addicted to.”

Dr. Christopher Townsend is part of the addiction counseling faculty at Texas Tech. He says it is addiction to other substances that can lead to more tragic outcomes, however, a drug is a drug.

“A drug is a drug,” said Dr. Townsend. “I think it’s not healthy for you. There is no other thing I am aware of that you would use nicotine for. It is mood altering. It’s a stimulant.”

He says it’s important to not abuse the original intent of the e-cigarette, especially adolescents whose brains are developing and face misinformation. He says it’s more than vapor.

When you hear about the growing number of patients hospitalized with vaping related illnesses, Lubbock is on that list.

Tomorrow, Karin McCay continues this series with a look at the health effects of vaping and what doctors are seeing here in Lubbock.

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