When they first emerged on the market, e-cigarettes were often promoted safer than cigarettes to deal with nicotine dependence. However, in the years, evidence has emerged to suggest that vaping and depression are tightly intertwined. Vaping comes with plenty of its own health risks, even if they differ from those of smoking. A new study indicates that one of those risks might be the development of depression.

Vaping and Depression – The Overwhelming Science

Studies have suggested a strong link between tobacco use and mental health conditions such as depression. The likelihood of an individual having a mental health condition is about 70% greater if they’re a smoker. In addition, smokers with mental health conditions generally smoke more and have a harder time quitting.

The connection seems to hold true for e-cigarette users, too. A 2016 study found that e-cigarette users were more than twice as likely as the general population to report having had depression. A more recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association aimed to take a broader look at the link between vaping and depression. The study surveyed almost 900,000 Americans and asked them about their e-cigarette use and history of major depression. The results showed a significant correlation.

Participants in the survey were asked if they had used e-cigarettes, even once. Additionally, they were asked if they had ever been diagnosed with a depressive disorder. Remarkably, e-cigarette users were found to be more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with depression. Those who vaped more frequently were also more likely to have depression than those who vaped less often.

Dangers of e-cigarettes, vaping and JUULs: How to talk to kids from the MD Anderson Cancer Center

Searching for a Cause – Why is Depression a Side Effect?

The survey does not necessarily suggest that vaping causes depression. The results only show that people who vape are more likely to be depressed. This could be caused due to those with depressive disorders being more likely to take up vaping and other nicotine habits, rather than the other way around.

Still, the study’s authors caution that the connection shouldn’t be brushed aside as mere coincidence. Both smokers and vapers are more likely to have a depressive disorder points the finger at nicotine, an ingredient common to cigarettes and most e-cigarettes, as the possible culprit.

Scientists know that nicotine makes changes to the way that users’ brains work. The study’s authors believe these changes may lay the groundwork for depression. Nicotine alters how users process a pleasure-causing brain chemical called dopamine, and it also may make users more sensitive to stress and less able to cope with stress when it occurs.

Are Smoking and Depression Linked? From Yale University

Further research is needed to determine if nicotine actually causes or worsens depression. If that turns out to be true, the study’s authors suggest that regulators should take a hard look at how e-cigarettes are marketed to young people and those at risk of depressive disorders.

“At the very least, our findings warrant careful and thorough evaluation of e-cigarette use in both youth and adults with depression,” they write. “Physicians should consider the routine collection of information pertaining to e-cigarette use during clinic visits, especially in patients with depression, and routine counseling for those who use e-cigarettes, offering support to those who express willingness to quit.”

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