THC vaping on the rise in Fayette County

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Can lead to both mental and physical illnesses — 

Vaping, or use of “e-cigarettes,” has rapidly become the preferred method of THC abuse among youth. THC, the main intoxicating substance in marijuana, is widely available as an oil that can be vaporized in a smoking device and inhaled. This trend is alarming for several reasons.

These “vaping” devices are easily concealed and often difficult to identify, as they are designed to be inconspicuous. Ranging from the size of a USB drive to roughly half the size of a cell phone, teens easily conceal these devices from parents and school personnel. Fayette County Board of Education reports discipline for vaping and tobacco devices has increased fourfold since 2018.

The content of modern THC oils, and the resulting health effects, should be of great concern to Fayette County residents — especially those with children or teens. Adults tend to drastically underestimate the risk of abusing THC oils, as they associate it with their classical views of low-THC marijuana that was prevalent in years past.

Even as late as the 1990s, average marijuana THC content was generally 3% to 4%. Modern marijuana tends to have THC concentrations around 15%, with many varieties over 30%.

Modern THC oils far exceed marijuana potency, with THC concentrations typically between 65 and 90%. Oils are also more easily and rapidly consumed than marijuana, leading to higher rates of drug intake. As a result, vaping THC oils can lead to negative health outcomes that were not widely recognized in previous years.

One local mental health program, Insight, has taken in more cases of cannabis-induced psychosis and cannabis hyperemesis syndrome in the last 8 months than then they did in the preceding 12 years.

Providers report youth coming into the program with psychoses after relatively short periods of vaping THC. Parents and youth alike do not often understand that such mental health disturbances can occur from this drug abuse. Such harm increases over time as usage continues, particularly in the developing brains of youth.

Adverse health effects are not limited to psychological changes. Insight has seen numerous Fayette County teenagers experiencing cannabis hyperemesis syndrome (CHS).

CHS is a condition that leads to repeated and severe bouts of vomiting after chronic use of cannabis/marijuana or some of its derivatives. This condition was once very rare, and only seen in daily long-term users of marijuana. High-potency THC oils are now leading to teenagers as young as 15 or 16 experiencing severe CHS after short-term use, and often experiencing accompanying psychoses.

The landscape of drug abuse in America, and right here in Fayette County, has changed significantly in recent years. Constantly decreasing public “perception of harm” from marijuana and related products is a key failure contributing to this evolving public health crisis.

The proliferation of vaping technology has provided a vehicle to magnify the potential harm from the increased socio-political acceptance of this drug.

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Drug Free Fayette (DFF) (www.DrugFreeFayette.org) is a coalition of community leaders and youth in Fayette County focused specifically on reducing youth substance abuse in the county. While focused on youth substance abuse prevention, DFF aims to align with other organizations that provide treatment and recovery services, for youth as well as adults.

DFF is a confidential and reliable resource for information about substances, healthy alternatives, and tools to keep our families safer. DFF is supported by staff member support from two local nonprofit organizations: Fayette FACTOR (www.fayettefactor.org), and AVPRIDE (www.avpride.org).

[This article was written by Nick Russo, senior counselor at the Insight Program. The Insight Program has been operational in Fayette County since 2016. It is a substance abuse program for teenagers and young adults between the ages of 13-25. Nick Russo has been a senior counselor at the Insight program since 2010 and has been in recovery himself since July 2008.]