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What vaping really does to your body

Like it or not, vaping has become wildly popular. For many folks, the newest method of nicotine delivery has replaced more traditional habits like smoking cigarettes, which come with a host of negative health effects like emphysema, heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke. Plus vaping arguably smells a lot better than the alternative, making the experience much more pleasant than it would be lingering in a crowded room full of cigarette smokers.

But like most things, vaping comes with consequences, some of which might be surprising to vaping enthusiasts. To that end, it’s important to be educated about the potential effects vaping can have on the body, its organs, and its processes. 

So is vaping any better than smoking cigarettes or cigars? Or is it simply a more pleasant way of getting a nicotine fix that’s equally harmful? And what is in e-cigarettes that you need to worry about? Without further ado, here’s exactly what happens to your body when you vape, according to science.

What does vaping do to your lungs?

The first question you might have when it comes to vaping is: how does it impact your lungs? Surely there have to be some direct effects if you’re deliberately inhaling a foreign substance into your most vital respiratory organs. But as it turns out, the science on the issue of vaping isn’t uniform, which definitely throws a wrench into the conversation.

For example, in a 2015 study published in PLOS One, vaping was shown to cause inflammation and oxidation in the cells of mice, though it’s not clear if those effects are a concern for humans. Additionally, a 2018 study in the journal Respiratory Research showed that the lungs of people who vape (and have never smoked cigarettes) were indeed disrupted and adversely impacted by using e-cigarettes. However, the sample size was so small that the study isn’t rock solid, and further research is needed.

Conversely, a 2017 study in Scientific Reports that followed two groups of people — one who vaped and one who did not, and both who didn’t smoke — showed no significant difference in their lung function, though the sample was, once again, small. 

Vaping increases your risk of developing cavities

One nice thing about vaping is that, unlike smoking cigarettes, it won’t darken your teeth or cause them to turn yellow or brown, as there’s no tar in e-cigarettes. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that vaping is good for your oral health, as it can have adverse effects on your mouth.

Specifically, for one, vaping can increase your risk of developing cavities, according to a study in PLOS One. In the study, researchers examined the carcinogenic potential of sweetened vape juice, and found that inhaling it made the mouth a more hospitable environment for developing bacteria. That, in turn, rendered teeth more susceptible to developing cavities, a condition that requires treatment at the dentist and that isn’t exactly inexpensive.

Whether or not that’s the case for vaping liquids that aren’t sweet likely requires more research, but it’s evident from this study that, if you’re worried about tooth decay, vaping might not be the best idea. 

Vaping can irritate your mouth and throat

When it comes to oral health, vaping can wreak havoc, according to a study in the journal Tobacco Control. Specifically, the study reviewed a total of 44 articles in order to better understand the impact of e-cigarettes on the mouth. It found that inhalation of aerosolised propylene glycol and glycerol caused mouth and throat irritation, as well as a dry cough. That doesn’t sound pleasant, especially if you’re already prone to mouth and throat issues.

The study also concluded that while vaping products in general contain fewer toxins than conventional cigarettes, there’s no conclusive data that proves vaping is any less harmful than smoking. Additionally, the study noted that the FDA hasn’t approved vaping as a smoking cessation tool, so swapping one for the other may or may not be the best course of action. Abstinence and total cessation from smoking are the only ways to reduce the risks.

Vaping can increase your risk of gum disease

Unfortunately, vaping can have a negative impact on your gums. And as we all know, healthy gums are super important when it comes to overall oral hygiene, so you want to take care of them.

Specifically, according to a 2016 study in the journal Oncotarget, vaping is associated with inflammation of the gums. And inflammation of the gums is a major indicator of periodontal disease, which is going to cost a pretty penny to treat at the dentist’s office.

Gum disease isn’t a walk in the park, either. That’s because it makes you more likely to deal with gum recession, increased tooth sensitivity, and even tooth loss, according to Delta Dental. And that’s on top of the dry mouth and increased risk of cavities you’re already more likely to be dealing with. All in all, vaping just isn’t good for your oral hygiene whatsoever.

Does vaping cause heart disease?

While there isn’t a huge amount of research on how vaping impacts the human heart, the majority of the literature out there shows that vaping isn’t good for your overall cardiovascular health.

For example, according to a 2019 study in the journal Current Atheroscleorosis Reports, the aerosols inhaled while vaping have an adverse impact on your heart and circulatory system. Additionally, another 2019 study in the journal Stroke found that vaping increases your risk of heart disease, heart attack, angina, and stroke. A 2018 study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine came to a similar conclusion. And a 2017 review in the National Review of Cardiology found that vaping is bad for your circulatory system, especially if you already have some form of heart disease.

Interestingly enough, another study of nearly 450,000 people that same year in The American Journal of Medicine found no link between vaping and heart disease whatsoever, which is good news to vaping aficionados. But that isn’t the case for people who smoke cigarettes in addition to vaping.

Vaping can expose you to toxic chemicals

Vaping is often touted by enthusiasts as a cleaner, less dangerous alternative to smoking cigarettes. It certainly smells better, for sure, and the smell lingers far less than conventional tobacco products. Plus you don’t have to rely on a source of fire like matches or a lighter to ignite vaping products, which is certainly more convenient than fumbling for a light.

However, vaping still exposes users to a variety of chemicals and particulates that are harmful to the body. This was the finding of a 2019 study in the journal Current Atherosclerosis Reports, which reviewed current literature on the cardiovascular system to ascertain the impact that vaping can have on the heart, circulatory system, and lungs. Once again, researchers found that vaping isn’t 100 percent safe.

Researchers did point out that using only vaping products and avoiding cigarettes can help you limit your exposure to these harmful agents. But that’s because most people who vape also smoke conventional tobacco products, which is more risky than just vaping alone.

Vaping increases your heart rate

Taking a puff on your vaping device delivers a punch of nicotine to your system, which can feel very pleasant. However, inhaling nicotine can have a variety of effects on your body that can be damaging in the long-term.

For example, when you inhale nicotine, your heart rate increases, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. While that might not sound so bad — exercise increases your heart rate as well, and that’s good for you — that acceleration can cause damage to your heart over time.

That’s not the only thing that will increase when you vape, either. In addition to an increased heart rate, your blood pressure also rises when you take a drag on your e-cigarette, and more blood is pumped to your heart more quickly. And, of course, that also isn’t a good thing. To top it all off, since nicotine stays in your system for up to eight hours, that’s some prolonged exposure that can tire out your ticker. 

Young people who start vaping are more likely to start smoking cigarettes

According to the American Lung Association, there are a variety of reasons why kids and teens start vaping, including aggressive marketing tactics from vaping companies, misconceptions about what’s really in e-cigarettes, and, of course, good old-fashioned peer pressure. Additionally, the association estimates that approximately 40 percent of all kids have vaped at least once, and 5,700 kids start vaping every day. That is a staggering amount of people picking up the habit!

Once kids start vaping, they’re not just exposing themselves to the negative effects that it can cause, either. That’s because kids who vape are also more likely to start smoking conventional cigarettes down the road, according to a consensus report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Of course, that exposes users to the many, well-established health risks associated with tobacco consumption — and that’s some pretty bad news.

Vaping can cause you to become nicotine dependent

Let’s face it: the reason that vaping is so popular is because nicotine feels good when you take it into your bloodstream. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, inhaling nicotine causes a brief feeling of euphoria, thanks to the increased levels of dopamine floating around in the brain. Plus it only takes about ten seconds for the positive feelings to occur, which is not a long time by any stretch — so the gratification is pretty instant.

But like many things that feel good, nicotine is highly addictive, and over time users can become dependent on the chemical in order to experience the high. And according to a study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, people who vape nicotine products are more likely to become dependent on it than those who don’t. While that might seem obvious, it’s important to note that the science does indeed confirm it.

There’s a little bit of good news for those who vape, though. That’s because the same study found that e-cigarette users are less addicted to nicotine than conventional smokers and people who chew nicotine gum. Silver lining, perhaps?

Vaping can cause cell dysfunction

Your body is only as healthy and strong as the cells that comprise it. That includes everything from the cells that function as your epidermis to the cells that make up your internal organs. To that end, it’s important to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself to ensure that all of your cells are functioning as best as they possibly can.

Unfortunately for folks who vape, the science is in: Vaping has been shown to hinder cells’ ability to function and thrive, according to a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. And that can be a contributing factor in developing heart disease, which can significantly decrease both your quality of life and your life span.

Additionally, in the report Public Health Consequences of E-Cigarettes, researchers found conclusive evidence that the aerosols found in vaping products can induce acute endothelial cell dysfunction, in addition to a number of other undesirable outcomes. That’s definitely concerning!

Vaping can affect the developing brain

According to Harvard University, the human brain is continuously built over time, starting before you’re born and continuing well into adulthood. And while the brain’s development is faster when you’re younger, it isn’t fully developed until approximately age 25, according to the BBC. Arguably, that means that adulthood technically begins in your mid-20s instead of at age 18.

To that end, it’s important to take into consideration anything that might have an impact on hindering the growth of the developing brain. And as far as vaping is concerned, it can have a negative impact on any brains that haven’t reached peak maturity, according to the CDC. That’s because nicotine has been proven to slow adolescent brain development, as well as have an effect on areas that control mood, attention span, impulse control, and the capacity for learning. Plus nicotine hinders the brain’s ability to build synapses, something that occurs much more often in the young and developing brain than it does in an older brain. 

In a nutshell, it’s best for kids, teens, and young adults to avoid vaping in order to foster healthy brain development.

There's no evidence that vaping causes cancer… yet

It’s been well-established for many years that smoking cigarettes and conventional tobacco products can cause a variety of cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute, including lung cancer, throat cancer, kidney cancer, stomach cancer, and many other forms of the disease. Given that fact, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that vaping could have the same kind of unhealthy impact on the body.

But interestingly enough, there’s no data available that links vaping and cancer, according to an article in Healthline. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean that vaping is safe overall for a variety of reasons. For one, vaping is a relatively new phenomenon, so there hasn’t been enough time to tell how it can damage the body and cause cancer in the long term. Given that most lung cancer diagnoses are made at approximately age 65 and that many people who vape are still young, decades will have to pass before the data is conclusive.

Finally, another barrier obscuring the link between vaping and cancer is that many people who vape are former smokers. That means that it’s difficult to prove which habit causes bodily harm.

What about nicotine-free vaping?

Nicotine isn’t the only substance that can be vaped, even though it’s arguably the most common reason that people get hooked on e-cigarettes. Additionally, nicotine-free vaping juice still contains a variety of potentially dangerous additives, such as flavoring agents and base chemicals. So even if you’re just vaping something like CBD, you still need to pay attention to what you’re taking into your lungs.

But just how bad can vaping nicotine-free juice be? For one, according to a study in the journal Tobacco Induced Diseases, vaping can irritate the lungs. Second, it can cause cell death, according to a study in the journal Thorax. Third, a study in the journal Clinical and Translational Physiology found that vaping nicotine-free juice can trigger inflammation, which is linked to a number of adverse health effects. Finally, according to a study in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, nicotine-free vaping has been shown to cause harm to blood vessels. Yikes!

Vaping marijuana can get you higher than smoking it

It used to be that recreational and even medical use of cannabis was completely illegal in all 50 states. However, as attitudes toward the plant have changed over the years, more and more states are legalizing the use of marijuana for both purposes. And, of course, marijuana can be vaped, whether the vape juice contains the CBD component or the more intoxicating THC element.

So is it safe for a person to start vaping marijuana? And does it cause any adverse health effects? According to an article in Healthline, you need to be mindful and to carefully read the packaging on any vape products that contain THC. That’s because they can contain much higher levels of THC than conventional marijuana does. It can be so strong, in fact, that it can cause hallucinations, which could be jarring if you’re just using THC to relax and unwind.

Ingesting too much THC can also cause anxiety, decreased cognition, poor performance at school, and a host of other side effects. So it’s important to be an informed consumer when vaping marijuana.

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