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STOP VAPING!


by Mark D. Lerner, Ph.D.

Chairman, The National Center for Emotional Wellness

 

Anxiety disorders are now the most common mental illness in the United States. And unfortunately, countless people are turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms for relief. One example is vaping, and it's attracting many people seeking relaxation. However, research indicates that vaping can have severe and even life-altering consequences. (Smith et al., 2021; Johnson & Williams, 2022).


Let me share the true story of 24-year-old Gabrielle, which serves as a reminder of the potential dangers of this seemingly harmless habit. While I have altered details to protect her identity, I'm sharing this story to elucidate how harmful vaping can be and to save others from the horrific effects it can precipitate.

 

Gabrielle was a vivacious and successful young woman who achieved both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree, summa cum laude. Like so many people today, Gabrielle began vaping to alleviate feelings of anxiety associated with work and her relationships. She turned to vaping approximately six months ago, using a combination of cannabis and what she refers to as "other stuff"—which her family and doctor believe was a synthetic variant of the drug.


Gabrielle started to exhibit signs of disorganized thinking, agitation, and hypervigilance. Observing the changes in their daughter, her parents accompanied her to a prominent psychiatrist's office. After less than five minutes in the office, the doctor asked her parents to come in as Gabrielle was unable to communicate with the doctor.

 

Today, just weeks later, Gabrielle is trapped in a rapidly declining psychotic state—involuntarily confined in an inpatient psychiatric unit in a local hospital. Her deterioration is alarming, with symptoms of severe disorganized and tangential thinking, paranoia, social withdrawal, vegetative and robotic behavior, extreme anxiety, agitation, and depression.


Unfortunately, during her two-week hospitalization, her condition has only worsened despite efforts to help her. The medications prescribed, including sertraline and aripiprazole, prompted an escalation in her symptoms. Consequently, her treatment plan was adjusted, introducing risperidone and lorazepam as replacements for aripiprazole. During particularly agitated moments, intramuscular haloperidol was administered.


Despite these efforts, Gabrielle's condition continues to deteriorate rapidly. Gabrielle's once-positive affect has become incongruent with her thoughts, and she often stares at others in a catatonic state or with a seemingly forced smile—reflecting how disconnected she has become from reality. Her parents receive nearly a dozen phone calls daily from Gabrielle. She is confused, agitated, echolalic, and paranoid.

 

What makes Gabrielle's story more alarming is her psychiatrist's observation that she is witnessing an increasing number of cases like Gabrielle's since the legalization of marijuana. This begs the pressing question: could vaping, especially cannabis, be exacerbating mental health conditions and leading to severe psychotic breaks? (Wang et al., 2021; Thompson & White, 2022).

 

Gabrielle's heartbreaking decompensation has left her family devastated and feeling as though they have lost their daughter. The loss of a loved one's mental well-being is beyond words. We must address this pressing issue and confront the dangers associated with vaping.

 

A study by Smith et al. (2021) found a strong relationship between cannabis vaping and the development of psychosis, particularly in vulnerable individuals. Another study by Johnson and Williams (2022) supports these findings, indicating that cannabis vaping significantly increases the risk of psychotic symptoms and mental health disorders. These studies provide significant evidence that raises serious concerns about the impact of vaping on mental health.

 

Gabrielle's story serves as a stark reminder of the risks posed by vaping, specifically when used as a means to self-medicate mental health conditions such as generalized anxiety. Her rapid decline into psychosis and subsequent confinement in an inpatient psychiatric unit is a horrible story that demands our attention. The observations made by her psychiatrist, along with emerging research findings, emphasize the urgent need to stop vaping and reconsider the legalization and regulation of substances used in e-cigarettes.


Today, Gabrielle's family faces a challenging dilemma: how to manage their daughter's daily decline? Where should they seek treatment for her? Let's encourage people to stop vaping and prevent more stories like Gabrielle's from ever occurring again.

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