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E-Cigarettes Promote Illicit Drug Use And Addiction

Update Date: Sep 04, 2014 11:02 AM EDT

Similar to conventional cigarettes, electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) may function as a "gateway drug," according to researchers. 

A gateway drug is that lowers the threshold for addiction to other substances like marijuana and cocaine. 

"While e-cigarettes do eliminate some of the health effects associated with combustible tobacco, they are pure nicotine-delivery devices," said co-author Denise B. Kandel, PhD, professor of sociomedical sciences (in psychiatry), Department of Psychiatry and Mailman School of Public Health, at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and a research scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

Researchers presented the findings at the 120th Shattuck lecture.

Another analysis of 2004 epidemiologic data from a large, longitudinal sample suggest that nicotine also primes human brains to respond to cocaine, the press release added. 

 "E-cigarettes have the same physiological effects on the brain and may pose the same risk of addiction to other drugs as regular cigarettes, especially in adolescence during a critical period of brain development. We don't yet know whether e-cigarettes will prove to be a gateway to the use of conventional cigarettes and illicit drugs, but that's certainly a possibility. Nicotine clearly acts as a gateway drug on the brain, and this effect is likely to occur whether the exposure comes from smoking cigarettes, passive tobacco smoke, or e-cigarettes."

The lecture presented is published in New England Journal of Medicine Science. 

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