Vaping and Mental Health

Estimated reading time: 31 minute(s)

It is well-understood that nicotine negatively affects the brain, making millions more susceptible to addiction. Millions expose themselves to this dangerous chemical in many ways despite repeated warnings and precautions. While cigarette smoking remains the commonest way to consume nicotine, vaping or using e-cigarettes has recently trended, especially in younger populations.

Experts have been investigating the side effects of vaping for the past few years. While most of this research has been directed toward physical impacts, many are now beginning to explore how vaping affects mental health. Though no studies have directly linked vaping and mental health consequences, many believe nicotine found in these e-cigarettes can worsen already-existing psychiatric issues, leading to overall mental health deterioration.

An Overview of Vaping: Why People are Using E-Cigarettes

Vaping describes inhaling nicotine through different vaping devices. These devices are available in different varieties, such as mods, e-hookahs, vapes, vape pens, electronic nicotine delivery systems, and tank systems. Each device works slightly differently but aims to deliver nicotine aerosols to the body. Due to technological advancements, the market now has newer versions of e-cigarettes that look like regular cigarettes, USB devices, pens, or pipes, making them easier to carry around and use without stigma.

A vaping device contains a heating element that vaporizes a liquid containing nicotine, flavor compounds, and sometimes even stronger components like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD). These devices are yet to be approved by the FDA yet millions of people, especially youngsters, have switched to them for various reasons. These reasons may include the following.

  • Many people try vaping out of curiosity as these devices remain relatively newer and a more advanced way of inhaling smoke
  • A lot of people, especially youngsters, face peer pressure to start vaping
  • It is a popular belief among many communities that vaping products are safer than any other form of nicotine consumption
  • Vaping has also become a common way to reduce stress, such as social anxiety or academic pressure
  • Lastly, many individuals turn to vapes and e-cigarettes to decrease the use of the conventional tobacco products to quit smoking. Unfortunately, most of them end up using both products, a situation known as dual use, which further worsens their addiction

How Can Vaping Affect Your Mental Health?

Vaping and mental health share a close connection, not only because vaping directly affects the brain. Many young adults turn to this practice due to ongoing mental health deterioration, hoping to find an escape. Many surveys have even suggested that every 4 out of 5 people who vape do so out of stress, depression, or anxiety.

While many have reported feeling temporary relief from these conditions, the negative effects of vaping far outweigh any temporary mental health benefits. Let’s look at the different long- and short-term effects of vaping on mental health.

Vaping and Depression

Research has indicated a high association between vaping and depression. Studies targeted at college students have revealed that those struggling with depressive symptoms were up to 34 times more likely to indulge in e-cigarette usage. However, experts now believe that this relationship is two-way, which means that while many start vaping to cope with depression, others may acquire this psychiatric issue as a result of using e-cigarettes.

Nicotine, the commonest chemical found in vapes, exerts a deregulatory effect on brain function and mood. Additionally, many young people who frequently use these vaping devices as a coping mechanism for depressive illness often fail to acquire other healthier coping strategies, such as physical activity, social connections, or seeking professional help, which only worsens their mental health.

Vaping and Anxiety

Many young adults vape nicotine or THC as a maladaptive coping strategy to keep their anxiety symptoms under control. However, studies investigating this link have concluded that those who use e-cigarettes are at a significantly higher risk of having anxious thoughts. These people were also found to be more vulnerable to other psychiatric illnesses that coexist with anxiety, such as substance use and ADHD.

Studies performed on anxiety and nicotine vaping have also proven that any relief that may be experienced due to this practice is temporary and will likely worsen the mental health issue in the long run. Vaping nicotine can negatively affect brain function and overall mood, whereas vaping THC can induce anxiety and paranoia, especially in high doses.

Vaping and Psychotic Disorders

Vaping marijuana has increased the risk of experiencing a psychotic disorder, like schizophrenia. Those who vape THC instead of eating or smoking it as cigarettes are more likely to develop these disorders because the vaping liquid has a higher concentration of THC. Statistics suggest that the risk of a person who vapes developing psychosis is three times higher than those who do not vape. The vulnerability can also increase depending on the potency of a person’s vaping fluid.

Vaping and Eating Disorders

Studies investigating younger populations have also indicated a link between using e-cigarettes and eating disorders. The risk of developing these eating disorders is also higher in those who vape than in those who don’t. These conclusions reflect that many young adults with eating disorders face difficulties in controlling emotions in general. Most of them turn to vaping to regulate their emotions and keep their mental health issues in check. Some may also smoke nicotine as an appetite suppressant; however, these effects are only temporary and likely to worsen the underlying issues in the long run.

Vaping and ADHD

Many people suffering from attention-deficit hyperactivity syndrome falsely believe that vaping nicotine calms them down and helps them cope with the symptoms more easily. The practice aggravates their hyperactivity levels and can make it harder for such people to stop vaping.

Additional Side Effects of Vaping: Does It Affect Physical Health Too?

In addition to the mental health effects of vaping, many people also end up experiencing physical consequences. The common impression that vaping is safer than cigarette smoking is entirely wrong, and either practice can lead to one or more of the following physical issues:

  • Asthma: Vaping can put people at a high risk of acquiring lung diseases like asthma. It may also worsen asthma for people already suffering from it.
  • Lung Scarring: Many vaping liquids contain a chemical called diacetyl, which may damage the lungs and scar the tissue, leading to bronchiolitis obliterans.
  • EVALI: EVALI indicates a serious lung condition secondary to vaping and can cause widespread lung damage. It can also worsen symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, and coughing.
  • Organ Damage: In addition to targeting and damaging, vaping nicotine or other substances can also hurt the brain and heart, raise blood pressure, and thin down the arteries leading to poor blood flow.
  • Addiction: Nicotine and THC compounds can be extremely addictive as they cause changes in the brain and lead to dependence. Once dependence occurs, it may become progressively difficult to stop using vaping products despite the extensive damage they cause.
  • Cancer: Certain compounds found in e-liquids have been known to cause cancer.
  • Explosions: Many people have reported explosions of batteries fitted in their vaping devices, leading to serious burns and injuries.

Minimizing the Mental Health Risks of Vaping: Easy Tips to Follow

Despite the visible mental and physical health damage secondary to vaping, quitting it can be challenging, especially for people who rely on it to relieve stress. While vaping relieves high-stress levels, the effects are temporary and can quickly become an addiction and long-term risks with continued use.

Following are some tips that can make quitting vaping easier and more achievable.

Practice Persistency

Nicotine or THC addiction is the most troublesome part that can make quitting difficult. While many may successfully overcome it in a few weeks, others struggle for months or years before completely giving up the practice. It is also completely normal to take multiple attempts before making a recovery. So if you are attempting to quit vaping for the first time, remember that patience is the key. It may take time to attain complete abstinence but don’t give up and stay persistent.

Try Nicotine Replacement Therapy

People who have been vaping nicotine for a long time may be experiencing an underlying dependency. This dependence makes it difficult for them to quit and may even trigger withdrawal symptoms that force them to relapse. Such people can take help from nicotine replacement therapy as an effective means to manage cravings and work toward attaining full sobriety. This therapy includes different means of delivering nicotine to the body, such as inhalers, patches, lozenges, and chewing gums.

Try to Avoid Triggers

If people in your social circle routinely vape or smoke, quitting can be particularly hard. To stop vaping, spending more time away from the social circle and avoiding gatherings where they are likely to smoke around you is crucial. Avoiding triggers like these can help you remain on the recovery path without slippage.

Reduce Stress Levels

Many people engage in vaping practices to manage stress levels. For them, experts advise seeking alternative methods for stress management, such as meditation or deep breathing. Seek professional help if you believe that your stress levels are persistently high and fail to come down. Professional therapy and rehabilitation can help you go through these stressful times while helping you break free from vaping practices.


Is vaping as bad as cigarette smoking?

It is a popular myth that vaping is less harmful than cigarette smoking. However, many studies have confirmed that the chemicals that make cigarettes harmful to health are also found in most e-cigarettes and other vaping products. When the supposedly harmless water vapor in the liquid cartridges is exposed to heat to form aerosol in a vaping device, some of its non-dangerous compounds also become potentially toxic. A good example is propylene glycol which may not be harmful to the body, but when it turns to formaldehyde gas due to heat exposure inside an e-cigarette, it can cause cancer. Additionally, the vaping device coil may sometimes break to form small metallic pieces, leaving whiskers of dangerous particles that you may inhale, leading to additional damage.

What does vaping do to your lungs?

As you inhale the vaping liquid particles, they reach the lungs and cause irritation and inflammation. If continued, the practice can scar the tissue and narrow the tubes that bring air in and out of the lungs. People with pre-existing respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, may find it difficult to keep them under control as long as they are vaping. Vaping also causes shortness of breath, chest pain, and coughing, whereas in the long run, it may translate to more serious conditions, such as bronchiolitis obliterans.

Can vaping cause anxiety?

While nicotine vaping does not directly cause mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, studies indicate that it can worsen the symptoms of all pre-existing issues.

Can vaping cause depression?

Some studies suggest that vaping can increase the risk of acquiring a depression diagnosis, especially in young adults.

Will my mental health issues resolve if I stop vaping?

It is crucial to understand that mental health issues are mostly multifactorial, with more than one cause. Vaping is typically a contributing factor that worsens them; hence, quitting may not necessarily treat them. It is better to talk to a mental health professional and seek therapy for complete management. 

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