Health Risks Associated with Co-Use of Cannabis and Nicotine

Types of cannabis and tobacco_nicotine co-use and associated outcomes in young adulthood

In summary

A recent survey has revealed the increased health risks and behavioral issues of those who use both cannabis and nicotine. After separating survey respondents into five categories based on use patterns (single-product use; concurrent use only; sequential use only; coadministration only; and both sequential use and coadministration) researchers examined the psychological and physical health of respondents finding that those who co-used cannabis and nicotine on the same occasion reported increased use and greater behavioral problems. Those who reported sequential use, so using one product directly before the other, were observed to have worse physical and mental health compared to those who only used one substance. This research may aid in the development of prevention programs by informing program developers about the associated risks of co-use. 

Understanding drug interactions is imperative for the health of the consumers, including those who use tobacco products. Very little research has been conducted that addresses drug interactions with cannabis and although some pharmacies are equipped with lists of theoretical information or previous incidents very little of it is certain. For those who need common medications like blood thinners, muscle relaxants, etc., drug interactions can be dangerous, even fatal, emphasizing the importance of understanding how cannabis interacts with other medications at the cellular level. Pharmacists and physicians need more knowledge to be able to thoroughly inform patients consuming marijuana of the potential risks. Future research should be conducted, as well as chemical modeling studies, to ensure the safety of cannabis users. 

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Benjamin Caplan, MDHealth Risks Associated with Co-Use of Cannabis and Nicotine
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Addictive Disorders are Associated with Neuroticism, Low Agreeableness, and Low Conscientiousness

Big Five personality traits and alcohol, nicotine, cannabis, and gambling disorder comorbidity

In summary

In a recent study published by the American Psychological Association researchers determined that addictive disorders, like cannabis use disorder, are associated with neuroticism, low agreeableness, and low conscientiousness. Neuroticism, agreeableness, and conscientiousness are some of the Big Five personality traits, which was the taxonomy chosen by the researchers to examine possible personality underpinnings of addictive behavior and comorbidity. As all three of the traits were equally associated with substance use disorders they may explain the co-occurrence of addictive behaviors but these traits also may more broadly associate the propensity to develop any psychiatric disorder. Further research is needed to fully elucidate the relationship between neuroticism, agreeableness, and conscientiousness for substance use disorders as the research may lead to the development of better prevention programs. 

The idea of cannabis use disorder is interesting as the endocannabinoid system does not act upon the reward system, making the threat of addiction almost nil. Cannabis is often pedestilized by advocates for its safety profile, especially when compared to other pain medications like opioids, yet there are still some concerns for dependency. The endocannabinoid system is ever changing, especially as we learn more about it. Very little research has been done that assesses cannabis dependency although it is known that, like with most substances, frequent users gain a tolerance to cannabis.  Tolerance to cannabis can be reset with abstinence, supposedly for a 48 hour period, but again more research is needed. Tolerance, addiction, and dependence all need to be properly defined and standardized across the medical community, not just the advocates, because addiction and dependence can be frightening words that should not be thrown about.

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Benjamin Caplan, MDAddictive Disorders are Associated with Neuroticism, Low Agreeableness, and Low Conscientiousness
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The Relationship Between Cannabis and Nicotine may Reveal Novel Treatments

Acute separate and combined effects of cannabinoid and nicotinic receptor agonists on MMN-indexed auditory deviance detection in healthy humans

In Summary

Researchers have attempted to elucidate the relationship between nicotine and cannabis revealing a possible benefit for sensory and cognitive processes. A cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) agonist, nabilone, and nicotine were compared against each other and combined and compared with a placebo, resulting in the region and deviant-dependent effects. Temporal regions of the brain were not affected by coadministration of nabilone and nicotine, while frontal regions showed improved cognitive function. Future research should continue to develop therapies that combine CB1 agonist while minimizing the need for nicotine in order to develop therapies for the dysregulation of sensory and cognitive processes. 

So little is still understood about the interactions of the endocannabinoid system, nicotinic receptors, and the opioid system. If the mechanisms underlying these various systems were well understood perhaps novel therapies could be developed to aid in the treatment of substance abuse disorders. Cannabis poses much less risk for addiction than opioids or nicotine as cannabis does not enact upon the reward system. Cannabis holds promise to lessen the troubles associated with the opioid academic by treating current addicts and preventing future addiction by serving as an adjunct therapy. Further research is needed to validate these hypotheses, but the current data provides hope for more ethical treatment methods.

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Benjamin Caplan, MDThe Relationship Between Cannabis and Nicotine may Reveal Novel Treatments
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Vape-Gate 2019: Review of The Risks of vaping

Risks on the Production Side of the Market:

  • Bacteria: Within facilities that lack appropriate oversight, any bacteria present during the manufacturing of a vaped product can be a source of risk for the consumer.
  • Fungus: Similarly, fungus can be a normal part of ambient air and life on earth, particularly around plants and soil. If production facilities do not have state-of-the-science monitoring or control mechanisms to limit mold, fungus can accumulate during the manufacturing process and can be transmitted to consumers.
  • Particles: Nicotine- or cannabis-containing products that are not produced in regulated facilities (home-grown and/or street-sold real or counterfeit products) may contain dangerous solvents, including solutions that contain lipid content that does not belong inside human lungs. Equally concerning, even in states with strict regulatory oversight over cannabis, the regulations may not cover particulate matter which may come into the consumer’s body from the containers that store tested cannabis products. For example, labs across the US have identified particles of vapor cartridge construction materials that become airborne during the heating process of vaporization. There is currently no testing standard for such circumstances. More, the sheer volume of particles emitted by a tool producing vapor is unregulated. With respect to its effects on the lungs, it is likely that there are meaningful differences (and potential risk differences) between a vaporizer which produces a small cloud of particles compared with one that produces a large, dense cloud.
  • Nicotine/E-liquids: Many nicotine vaporizers contain flavoring, coloring, preservative liquids that can be irritating to the lungs and breathing architecture. Non-nicotine liquid mixers can include sugary substances which promote dangerous growth of bacteria, inside the lungs.
  • Supervision: Street or home-produced products lack quality control measures to ensure that they are made safely, and/or contain safe ingredients, and are being delivered inside safe devices. In contrast, most FDA-overseen nicotine products and state-overseen cannabis production facilities limit many risk factors for currently-known threats to health

Risks on the Consumer Side of the Market:

  • Bacteria: Once purchased, products exposed to everyday life can acquire potentially dangerous bacteria after they are produced and sold. When used with poor maintenance practices, or by a consumer with hygiene practices that may add additional risk, bacterial infections can arise.
  • Fungus: Like bacteria exposure and potential infections, mold/fungus can accumulate after a vaping product is purchased. Good maintenance/cleansing practices help to prevent this risk, and appropriate hygiene around the consumption of vaping products typically minimizes this concern.
  • Particulate Matter: When using and re-using vaporizer tools (pens, vaporizer ovens, edibles), foreign particulate matter may break-off from cartridges, or may accidentally enter into products that were previously free of these contaminants. Many of the popular vaporizer cartridges, for example, seem to come from three facilities in China and are sold, worldwide, because of the attractive low price-point. Across the US, lab evidence has discovered evidence of small particles of the cartridges themselves (plastics, metals, other materials.) These particles can cause irritation to, or have toxic local effects on, the lungs. These reactions can certainly stimulate an inflammatory response which is sometimes equally uncomfortable as the offending irritation.
  • Coughing: Vaporizing a product which causes the user to cough excessively can risk the accidental aspiration of bacteria or particles from the mouth. These particles, if small enough, can cause inflammation or infection in the lungs.
  • Nicotine: In addition to the well-documented increased risk of cancer from the consumption of nicotine, this chemical is an irritant to the tissues with which it interacts, causing arterial wall constriction and thickening. It increases blood pressure and heart rate, promotes increased inflammation and suppresses normal immune system function. More, it also artificially elevates dopamine, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine, with poorly understood consequences that are unlikely to be healthy for the lungs.
  • Maintenance: Vaporizing old or poorly-kept products may ignore the very real effects of deterioration of materials which may pose health concerns. A product which is not well-maintained or regularly cleaned may contain infectious particles, irritating particles, toxic elements which may also be found in a pocket or storage container (insecticides, animal poisons, other chemicals which may preserve or protect during production or travel)

Individual Differences:

Between the production and the consumer sides of the vaporization arena, individual differences and outside influences can have a tremendous impact on the experience of vapor. Someone with a history of lung disease may tolerate a very different product than someone without such a history. Similarly, someone with a weakened immune system may have a more difficult time healing from an average exposure (to an irritant or an infectious particle) than someone with different circumstances. These are not likely to explain a large incidence of illnesses, but in addition to the concerns above, they may help explain a smaller portion.

Some of the Medical Illnesses Potentially Associated with Vaping:

1. Pneumonia (bacterial)

2. Aspiration Pneumonia

3. Idiopathic Acute Eosinophilic Pneumonia

4. Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis (extrinsic allergic alveolitis)

Typically this is related to the components of e-cigarettes: nicotine, propylene glycol/glycerol, ethylene glycol, any of >7000 flavorings, metals including tin, lead, nickel, chromium, manganese, and arsenic (have all been found in e-cigarette liquids), also nitrosamines common to tobacco, carbonyl compounds, volatile organic compounds, and phenolic compounds.

General Recommendations for Safer Consumption:

  • Use state-supervised companies, including dispensaries for cannabis-related vaporizer materials, and reputable nicotine suppliers
  • Convection vaporizer ovens that involve safe heating materials (ceramic, glass, quartz) are preferable to vaporizer cartridges.
  • Any means of detaching product from direct contact with a heat source is preferable. For example, stainless-steel containers that hold product, and are then placed into a heating chamber, is likely to be safer than placing product directly against heat.
  • Safe heating elements: chamber-based convection/conduction heating
  • Avoid direct contact with coils, and avoid combustion
  • Use fresh products from state-sponsored dispensaries or stores
  • Avoid products that are repeatedly reused (including vaporizer pens and vaporizer heating tools that stay full of organic material for more than a brief period of time
  • Prefer systems that include the opportunity to easily clean and replace individual used components
  • Use rubbing alcohol to clean any heating tools regularly

In Infographic form :

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Benjamin Caplan, MDVape-Gate 2019: Review of The Risks of vaping
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