Electronic Cigarettes. The good, the bad, and the … intriguing

Are electronic cigarettes dangerous? At this point the public health expert in me is screaming “of course you idiot, do you know nothing?!” Certainly there are very real fears that these sleek electronic tubes are hooking a new generation of kids on nicotine, and that this drug should not be considered safe and socially acceptable in any form. But, as with most things, reality is a little more complex. And in this case, it has an intriguing twist. Electronic cigarettes are primarily designed to get nicotine into your body via your lungs, without many of the downside to conventional cigarettes.

The beauty of the system is that you retain the physical experience of smoking – or vaping as it’s called in this case – but with out the actual smoke. E-cigarettes use a liquid such as glycerin into which ingredients like nicotine and even flavorings are dissolved. When you take a puff, this liquid is vaporized on a hot wire and forms a cloud of fine particles that, when inhaled, penetrate deep into your lungs. The good news for smokers is that electronic cigarettes don’t produce many of the harmful compounds that burning tobacco does. and you don’t get the dangerous side-stream smoke that regular cigarettes produce. so at first blush, e-cigarettes look like a great way to get your nicotine hit. They might even possibly help some people kick the smoking habit, although the jury is still out that one.

But vaping on an e-cigarette still means pumping your bloodstream full of a toxic substance. Nicotine is addictive, its toxic at high doses, and it has a whole range effects at lower doses that may not be good for you. But surprisingly, there’s not much known about whether the occasional vape presents a significant risk. However, when you puff on an e-cig, it’s not just nicotine you’re inhaling. Recent research has shown that, in addition to what they are designed to do, some electronic cigarettes deliver a range of hazardous metals and other chemicals direct to your lungs with each inhale. Admittedly, these only seem to be present at very low levels – probably too low to be dangerous in most cases.

But without regulations on e-cig performance and use, this may not always be the case. what’s worse, because of these potential contaminants, even nicotine-free electronic cigarettes may be more harmful than people think if they’re not regulated. That said, there’s no reason why the technology can’t be developed to avoid unwanted contamination. And this is where things get interesting, because it isn’t just nicotine that can be put into these little tubes. Think, for a second, about the increasing legal use of marijuana for medical purposes. Puffing on a regular joint may make you feel better, but you’re also stuffing your lungs with a whole load of harmful combustion products that your body will not thank you for in the long run.

but what if, instead, you put the main active ingredient in pot – delta nine tetrahydrocannabinol or THC – into an e-joint. Could this be a healthier way to appreciate its therapeutic benefits where medicinal marijuana is legal? It’s an intriguing possibility, and it opens the door to novel forms of self-medication. But as with any use of electronic vaporizers, it only makes sense if regulators and manufacturers work together to ensure that these devices deliver what they are supposed to, to whom they’re supposed to, and no more. Don’t get me wrong: I still think it’s crazy to fill your lungs with potentially harmful stuff- if nothing else, these are delicate organs and your life depends on them.

But for some people, the pros and cons of e-cigarettes may not be as black and white as you might at first think. If you have any thoughts on electronic cigarettes and vaping, please join the conversation in the comments. And remember to check out the additional resources in the blurb below..