STUDY: Vaping Changes Brain Chemistry, Harms Other Organ Systems

Written by Wes Walker on April 25, 2022

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Now that they have already become ubiquitous, research into their effects is trying to catch up. To that end, Dr. Laura Crotty Alexander led a study into the effects of e-cigs.

Vape pens were first invented and promoted as a solution to the serious health impacts of long-term cigarette smoking. But they may have some serious problems of their own.

This is the problem with new products that haven’t been subjected to clinical trials. Understanding of the associated risks lags behind until much later.

Now, a study being conducted on mice has opend our eyes to what sort of unexpected consequences we could be dealing with. And they aren’t as innocuous as people first believed.

A couple of surprises emerged in this study.

First, inflammation did not show up in the lungs as much as had been expected (but other changes were noticed). Second, it showed up in a lot of other systems experts might not have predicted. Lastly, the flavors themselves play a role in the medical problems being discovered.

Crotty Alexander’s team focused on the current most prominent e-cigarette brand, JUUL, and its most popular flavors: mint and mango. To model chronic e-cigarette use, young adult mice were exposed to flavored JUUL aerosols three times a day for three months. Researchers then looked for signs of inflammation across the body.

Authors saw the most striking effects in the brain, where several inflammatory markers were elevated. Additional changes in neuroinflammatory gene expression were noted in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region critical for motivation and reward-processing.

The findings raise major concerns, they said, as neuroinflammation in this region has been linked to anxiety, depression and addictive behaviors, which could further exacerbate substance use and addiction.

“Many JUUL users are adolescents or young adults whose brains are still developing, so it’s pretty terrifying to learn what may be happening in their brains considering how this could affect their mental health and behavior down the line,” said Crotty Alexander. —Neuroscience

It’s not just the brain getting inflamed and changed by e-cigs, either.

They also found:

– Inflammatory gene expression in the colon
– Cardiac tissue immunosuppressed and more vulnerable to infection
– Gene expression changes in the lungs
– Distinctions in which tissue changes showed up in which flavor pod

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