New studies bare teen vaping and mental fog link

January 5, 2021

Two new studies from the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) found a link between vaping and mental fog, including difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions; these signs are especially significant among teens starting to vape before the age of 14.

While other studies have found an association between vaping and mental impairment in animals, the URMC team led by Associate Professor  Dongmei Li, PhD  is the first to draw this connection in people.

The studies, published in the journals Tobacco Induced Diseases and Plos One, analysed over 18,000 middle and high school student responses to the National Youth Tobacco Survey and more than 886,000 responses to the Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance System phone survey from US adults. Both surveys ask similar questions about smoking and vaping habits as well as issues with mental function.

Both studies show that people who smoke and vape – regardless of age – were most likely to report struggling with mental function.  Behind that group, people who only vape or only smoke reported mental fog at similar rates, which were significantly higher than those reported by people who don’t smoke or vape.

The youth study also found that students who reported starting to vape early – between eight and 13 years of age – were more likely to report difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions than those who started vaping at 14 or older.

Adolescence is a critical period for brain development, especially for higher-order mental function, which means tweens and teens may be more susceptible to nicotine-induced brain changes. E-cigarettes deliver the same amount or possibly more nicotine.

While the URMC studies clearly show an association between vaping and mental function, it’s not clear which causes which. It is possible that nicotine exposure through vaping causes difficulty with mental function. But it is equally possible that people who report mental fog are simply more likely to smoke or vape – possibly to self-medicate.  The researchers said that further studies are needed to parse the cause and effect of vaping and mental fog.

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Category: Education, Features

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