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Hysteria over Drugs and Ecigs

Small-scale online study gives British tabloids the shock drug vaping headline they crave.

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Dr. Matthew Blundell, a toxicologist at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust in London, has completed an investigation into the vaping of recreational drugs. Together with professors Dargan and Wood, from King's College London, the team has gifted salacious percentage figures to a range of media titles ever hungry for sensationalised stories.

Even the title of their paper veers towards the overly dramatic: “A cloud on the horizon–a survey into the use of electronic vaping devices for recreational drug and new psychoactive substance administration”.

The team write: “There is limited published scientific data on vaping recreational drugs other than cannabis.” In order to provide some substance to the knowledge base, they produced a voluntary online survey using 2,501 participants recruited through a market research company. A stunningly high number (818) claim to use cannabis. From this group, the trio produced findings such as “the commonest lifetime recreational drug to be vaped was cannabis (155, 65.7%)”, and that “electronic cigarettes (230, 48.2%) [is] the commonest reported route of [synthetic cannabis] compound [use].”

The high percentage figures mask over the fact that just 9.4% of their respondents (from a skewed sample) admitted to using vaping devices with recreational drugs.

The team make some incredible (and unsupported) assumptions when they write: “Increasing availability, use and acceptance of vaping devices, especially amongst teens and young adults, which may lead to greater use of recreational drugs by this route, thereby increasing overall drug exposure. The ability to vape deodorised drugs, especially cannabis, more discreetly with no smell - known as 'stealth vaping' – makes drug use harder to detect and therefore prevent.”

The Sun leapt on this to scream that there were now “Vape Drug Fears”, and that “E-cigs are being adapted to smoke heroin, crack cocaine and ecstasy to make detection harder.” The tabloid rag took the team’s bizarre data and predictably twisted it: “Up to 2.6million Brits use e-cigs, so about a million may have used them illegally.”

Similarly, The Mail knee jerked its way to claiming: “E-cigarettes are being adapted to smoke heroin, crack cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis which could lead to more overdoses.”

It continued: “A study by public health experts has revealed alarming numbers of e-cigarette users are modifying their vaping devices so they can inhale vapour from banned drugs.” It is surprising that they didn’t question why these figures are so ‘alarmingly’ high.

Instead, they allowed Blundell to continue with his spurious claims: “Vaping of recreational drugs and new psychoactive substances poses a serious potential public health risk. This novel culture could increase the prevalence of use, decrease the age of onset of use and lead to more problematic use of cannabis and other recreational drugs via vaping devices.”

This bogus hysteria has been countered by experts who actually work with drug users.

Nick Hickmott, early intervention lead at Young Addaction, said: “We've seen little evidence of vaporisers being used for street drugs such as heroin and cocaine, but our experience is that the use of vaporisers for cannabis slowly increasing. Young people don't want to use tobacco due to the health risks, but do want to use cannabis. As such, vaping is increasing in popularity.”

Early Break helps young people in Rochdale and Bury cope with addictions, Janine Day is its Area Business Manager and told the Manchester Evening News that she’s only known a couple of people try to vape drugs – and they returned to using cannabis with tobacco.

Dr Robert Ralphs, a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, believes that vaping will never be a popular method for cannabis consumption: “The whole social experience of ‘skinning up’ and passing around the spliff between a few of you, you lose that social interaction and ritual with vaping.”

It would be too easy to say that the study was only produced in order to grab some headlines and promote further funding, so we won’t.

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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