Teenagers are participating in a dangerous trend that's sweeping the nation. A growing number of America's youths, even as young as 11 years old, are vaping THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes a person "high." The most recent CDC figures available show more than one in five high school seniors vaped THC in 2020, which was a significant increase over prior years, and likely even greater today.
Not Your Father's Pot
Many parents may know THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana but don't realize vaping it is much more potent than smoking a joint. Unlike typical marijuana cigarettes that contain 10% THC, today's new THC vaping devices can concentrate it to a staggering 95%.
Nora Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told CBN News the high-content THC people are consuming can cause serious mental issues.
"The higher the dose of THC for example, the higher the likelihood that you will end up with a psychotic episode, and that will lead you to end up in the emergency room department, and that is a very scary experience," said Dr. Volkow. "The higher the content of THC, the higher the risk of becoming addicted to marijuana, to THC. And that, in turn, results in a disruption of behavior that can have very long-lasting consequences and unfortunately is actually quite challenging to treat."
In addition to mental health issues, Dr. Volkow said more doctors are seeing patients suffering from a number of physical health complications stemming from high THC consumption.
"There are other actions of the drug that could interfere with cardiac function, pulmonary function, and the irrigation of blood to the brain. All of these are a new presentation that physicians are seeing in the emergency department associated with consumption of high-level THC that we actually didn't even know existed," she said.
Further complications include stomach issues, such as cannabis hyperemesis syndrome.
"The one perhaps most frequently recognized is episodes of severe vomiting that last for days and are associated with very intense abdominal pain that requires in some instances some hospitalization."
Nick Sauber told CBN News he started vaping THC when he was just 14 years old and in the eighth grade. He noticed right away it got him very high, very fast.
"It was like one or two hits of the pen and I would instantly be high."
THC vape pens are small enough to fit in the palm of the hand, and are often smokeless and odorless. That means kids like Nick can vape THC pretty much anywhere they want without anyone noticing.
"It was so easy, you know, I could do it in class, I could do it in the bathroom," he said.
Before long, however, Nick noticed the drug's effect.
"The longer I used it, the more my mental health started deteriorating. My grades were slipping. I couldn't really think or concentrate as well," he said. "In my mind I was trapped in this delusion that I have to commit suicide because my parents are going to find out."
He quickly became addicted.
"The only thing I was thinking about was, 'When's the next time I can use this again?' Like, 'When's the next time I can go to the bathroom, or the teacher will let me go?'"
Legal Most Places
A loophole in the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp, also legalized Delta-8 THC vape products, which are synthesized from hemp.
That means in addition to cannabis dispensaries, Delta-8 vape pens can be sold at smoke shops, gas stations, dollar stores, and online, in nearly every state. Oftentimes, deliveries can be made to homes with the products packaged in containers that do not reveal what's inside. Manufacturers literally sweeten the deal by adding kid-friendly flavors like bubblegum and strawberry to their vape pens.
Aubrey Adams, director of Every Brain Matters which educates about the health dangers of marijuana, told CBN News people who develop THC-induced psychosis are at a five times greater risk of developing schizophrenia.
"I do not understand why the United States of America, why our government, is not protecting our children. That is their job," she said. "The people that want to profit off our children's, off our families' destruction, have a lot of power in our country."
Likewise, Christian parenting expert Kelly Newcom, founder of Brave Parenting told CBN News parents need to address the issue of vaping THC with their own children.
"Ultimately God's word says that we are to be sober-minded. We are to be on the lookout. The Devil prowls like a roaring lion waiting for someone to devour. And marijuana is one way to sort of numb our children's brains, one other way that Satan is using to get kids to walk away from the faith," she said.
Newcom advises parents to search vape pens online and become familiar with their appearance, because many adults may not even recognize the devices in their own homes because they can look like other common items like thumb drives, ink pens, or markers. Then Newcom suggests parents look for the devices in their child's bedroom or backpack, as well as missing or spliced charging cords, which are often used to power the devices.
Confiscate Phones and Do a Drug Test
Newcom says if a child is vaping THC, the sooner the parent discovers the problem and intervenes, the better.
"When they are this young because I've heard of 11-year-olds using this as they're entering into 5th, 6th grade, it's really decisive action. You need to act really fast," she says.
Newcom says if a parent discovers, or suspects, their child is vaping THC, the parent should confiscate their child's smartphone because that's often the primary tool used to advertise, buy and sell.
"Because that is how they are accessing it, through, you can call them dealers, but they're often just friends. They're people at school who have older siblings who are buying it, but essentially they're dealers."
Parents who confiscate smartphones and still want their children to have the ability to communicate can give their children a kid-safe phone, like Pinwheel.
"Pinwheel allows you to read all of your child's text messages from your own phone, from the caregiver portal, and that's really helpful," Newcom said. "You can find out who are the kids who are asking for vape or asking if they want vape."
Parents can also use a drug test, available at most pharmacies and online, as a way to monitor their child.
"So just having that conversation of saying, 'While I trust you, I trust God and I fear God more than I fear you being mad at me for drug testing,' because this is really prevalent," Newcom said.
Adams said drug testing her son actually gave him an excuse to avoid marijuana while also saving face.
"It was a good preventative measure for him to say to his peers, who are pressuring to use, 'You know, I'm not going to use because I know I'm going to get drug tested any day,'" he said.
Newcom says marijuana in a child's body can be detected long after they consume it.
"The THC metabolite is actually stored in the fat, and it lasts a long time," she says. "So it can actually stay in the urine for up to four to six weeks."
Some kids make THC vaping their drug of choice because they feel it's safer than other street drugs, such as pills, cocaine, and heroin, which can often be laced with deadly fentanyl, without the user's knowledge. While THC vapes typically are fentanyl-free, that could change.
"I think we can not be complacent and we have to be open to the possibility that someone may think about doing this and say, 'Well, if I want to have a unique product for vaping THC, what about I mix it with fentanyl,' and sell a product that's going to be incredibly dangerous," said Dr. Volkow.
Fortunately, Nick got the help he needed to quit vaping THC.
"I feel so much better off of this," he said. "I feel I can be free and experience life like I should."
He urges others to kick the habit, or better yet, never start.