Weed vaping soars among teenagers, doubling since 2018

The number of teenagers vaping marijuana has risen dramatically within the past two years, increasing at a near record pace, according to an analysis published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In just one year’s time — between 2018 and 2019 — the percentage of high school seniors who reported vaping pot within the past month rose from 7.5 percent to 14 percent.

The analysis looked at data from the Monitoring the Future survey, an annual report on drug use among 42,000 eighth, 10th and 12th grade students in 392 schools across the country.

The doubling of marijuana vaping rates in this year’s report is the second largest single-year jump for any substance since the survey began in 1975. The biggest increase was between 2017 and 2018, when nicotine use — driven by vaping — skyrocketed among teenagers. Researchers released data on 2019 teen nicotine vaping rates from the same survey back in September.

The new numbers illustrate “how rapidly vaping has permeated the culture of teenagers,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which funded the survey.

Seven percent of eighth graders reported vaping marijuana in 2019, up from 4.4 percent in 2018. Among 10th and 12th graders, the increases are nearly identical: 19.4 percent of high school sophomores and 20.8 percent of high school seniors said they vaped pot in 2019, up from 12.4 percent and 13.1 percent in 2018 respectively.

Some kids are vaping marijuana just about every day, the survey found: 3.5 percent of 12th graders, and 3 percent of 10th graders. Often, adults around them aren’t aware of the drug use because dab pens and wax pens, as the devices are often called, are easily concealed and don’t emit an odor.

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There was no significant difference in usage among teens living in states that had passed laws legalizing recreational use of marijuana. But substance abuse experts say legalization of a substance can lead to a perceived drop in its risk, especially when it comes to teens.

“There’s an impression that pot isn’t addictive at all,” said Dr. Sharon Levy, director of the adolescent substance use and addiction program at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It’s not uncommon for me to encounter kids, and sometimes even their parents, who haven’t heard that these substances can be addictive.”

What’s more, teenagers’ brains are still developing, making them particularly susceptible to the effects of nicotine and THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Overall, the most commonly used illicit drug was marijuana in any form — a statistic that’s remained steady for years. But since 2018, the number of eighth and 10th graders who said they use marijuana every day has risen significantly.

The health implications of so many young people vaping marijuana so frequently may not be known fully for years. Vaporizing THC and then inhaling it deep into the lungs has an effect on the body that’s more potent than the rolled joints of previous generations.

Vaping devices came along in the early 2000s and “essentially perfected drug delivery,” Levy said.

Vapes “can get the drug all the way down deep into your lungs, where the rich vascular bed absorbs these molecules very quickly, and sends a real shot of this stuff directly to your brain,” Levy told NBC News. And because vape oils are often highly concentrated, a hit delivers a much higher dose than smoking would.

The dramatic rise in vaping comes at a time when other drug use among teenagers is falling. The Monitoring the Future survey found significant declines in abuse of opioids and medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Usage of LSD, cocaine and heroin was low among 12th graders, at 3.6 percent, 2.2 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively.

Though slightly more than half of high school seniors reported some alcohol use within the past year, the percentage is down from previous years. Reports of binge drinking also fell among 10th and 12th graders.

Just 2.4 percent of 12th graders reported smoking regular cigarettes, down from 3.6 percent in 2018.

Vaping, though, has become an epidemic among teenagers. When researchers asked 12th graders why they vaped any substance, most said they wanted to experiment and try the flavors. But a growing number of teens reported vaping “to relax or relieve tension.” And the number of teens reporting they were “hooked” on the devices more than doubled, from 3.6 percent in 2018 to 8.1 percent in 2019.

Vaping has also been linked to more than 2,000 recent cases of severe lung illnesses called EVALI, e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injury. Most, but not all, have been linked to illicit THC vapes and weed pens.

“Those acute lung injuries are a reminder that sometimes we embrace technology without properly understanding it,” Volkow said.

“We do not know the consequences of chronic delivery of very high temperature vapor into our lungs. After two, three, 10 years, it’s likely to be quite deleterious,” Volkow said, adding that regulation is necessary to control the quality of vape products on the market.

“Decades from now, we really don’t want to be seeing that people in fact are suffering from severe inflammatory diseases of the lung that we have never seen before,” she said.

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New Zealand volcano eruption kills 5 people; Americans among the missing

American tourists were among the eight people still missing Monday after a volcano on an island off the coast of New Zealand erupted, killing at least five people, the country’s prime minister said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she believes tourists from Australia, China, Malaysia and the United Kingdom are also among the missing and warned they may not find any other survivors on Whakaari White Island, which has been covered by a blanket of ash at least a foot thick.

“We share in your unfathomable grief in this moment and time,” Ardern said. “For now, our duty is to return loved ones.”

So far, reconnaissance flights over the area in the hours after the eruption revealed no signs of life, Ardern said.

“The focus has to be on those who are…critically injured and, of course, what is now a recovery” mission, Ardern said.

But rescue workers have to dread carefully. “It is a very unpredictable volcano,” said Ardern.

Thirty-one people who were rescued from White Island remain hospitalized and three others have already been discharged, the prime minister added.

The country’s most active cone volcano, located in the Bay of Plenty about 30 miles off the northeast New Zealand coast, erupted at 2:11 p.m. Monday (8:11 p.m. Sunday ET), according to GeoNet, the government earthquake agency.

“It just looked like what you see of a nuclear bomb going off, is what it looked like, kind of was turning into a mushroom cloud,” Dan Harvey, a commercial fisherman who was out at sea at the time of the eruption, told Radio New Zealand. “The way it just expanded around itself and just went straight up into the sky.”

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Search-and-rescue operations stalled because it was too dangerous to approach the island, John Tims, deputy commissioner of the national police, said.

Boats, ships and emergency aircraft in the area removed 23 people from the island just after the eruption, many of them with burns, Tims said at an earlier news conference. The five who were killed were part of that group, he said. About 50 people were believed to have been in the area at the time of the eruption.

Tims gave few details on the identities of the people who were killed other than to say that they were from a range of countries.

Michael Schade of San Francisco had just left the volcano and was starting to eat lunch on a tour boat when the volcano began to erupt. He described how the crew on the boat quickly got everyone inside and sped away from the dock.

“It went from nothing going on to it erupting,” he said.

After a few minutes, the boat turned around to rescue people waiting on the pier. They boarded with a range of injuries, including burns, he said. The crew and passengers gathered water, medicine and clothing to use as blankets and bandages.

“There was one woman in particular that my mom stayed with and she just had a hard time all together staying awake,” he said. “For other people, it was just trying to soothe their burns as best you could without making it worse.”

The injuries of those rescued ranged from critical and serious to moderate and minor, according to St. John Ambulance Service, which responded on White Island shortly after the eruption with 11 helicopters as well as other rescue vehicles.

Jonathon Fishman, a spokesman for Royal Caribbean Cruises, told NBC News that multiple guests aboard the ship Ovation of the Seas were touring the island, which in quieter times is a tourist attraction popular with birdwatchers.

In the hour before the eruption, a camera owned and operated by GeoNet showed groups of people walking near the rim inside the crater, where white smoke constantly billows at a low level, according to Reuters.

The camera, along with three others from different vantage points, captures and posts images online of the volcano every 10 minutes. At 2:00 p.m. the crater rim camera captured a group of people right at the edge of the rim.

At 2:10 p.m. — just a minute before the eruption — the group is headed away from the rim, following a well-worn track across the crater.

It is unclear whether the group, which appeared to be made up of around a dozen people, had been alerted to flee or were continuing a tour and unaware of the looming eruption.

Schade said that while his group was on the tour of the island, it stopped by the volcano’s main crater and stood over it.

“You can kind of walk right up near the edge and look in. Not too close, but look into it and see the steam bubbling up from it,” he said.

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Children among nine people killed in US plane crash

A Pilatus PC-12 plane (not pictured) crashed, killing nine people on board (Picture: Pilatus Aircraft)

Authorities have confirmed nine people have been killed in a plane crash in South Dakota.

Casualties included two children and the pilot, with a further three people surviving the crash in rural Brule County on Saturday.

The single-engine Pilatus PC-12 plane went down at around 12:30pm shortly after taking off from Chamberlain, about 140 miles (225.3 kilometres) west of Sioux Falls.

The aircraft, which had 12 people on board, was bound for Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Brule County States Attorney Theresa Maule Rossow confirmed the deaths, saying: ‘The men and women of law enforcement, first responders and medical professionals should be commended in their heroic actions to rescue the victims in the extreme weather conditions.’

Media reports say Chamberlain and central south-central South Dakota were under a winter storm warning at the time of the crash.

Peter Knudson with the National Transportation Safety says the weather will be among several factors NTSB investigators will review, but no cause has yet been determined.

He said inclement weather is making travel to the site difficult.

The three survivors are currently receiving hospital treatment in Sioux Falls.

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