Thursday, September 11, 2014

Columbia Scientists Claim that E-Cigarettes May Be Gateway to Illicit Drug Use and Addiction

According to a press release issued by Columbia University Medical Center, a team of researchers from Columbia University have concluded that electronic cigarettes may serve as a gateway not only to cigarette smoking, but also to illicit drug use and addiction, such as cocaine addiction.

According to the press release: "Like conventional cigarettes, electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) may function as a “gateway drug”—a drug that lowers the threshold for addiction to other substances, such as marijuana and cocaine—according to the 120th Shattuck lecture, presented to the Massachusetts Medical Society by Columbia researchers Denise and Eric Kandel and published today in the online edition of the New England Journal of Medicine." ...

"In the lecture, the Kandels review Denise Kandel’s earlier work on the gateway hypothesis and on the role of nicotine as a gateway drug, reported in a Science paper in 1975. They also review subsequent studies in which they tested the gateway hypothesis experimentally in a mouse model. In those studies, conducted in collaboration with Amir Levine, Yan You Huang, Bettina Drisaldi, Edmund A Griffin, and others at CUMC, they found that when mice are exposed to nicotine, it alters their brain biochemically and induces activation of a reward-related gene. As a result, nicotine primes the animals’ subsequent response to cocaine, providing a molecular basis for nicotine as a gateway drug for cocaine. Dr. Denise Kandel’s further analysis of 2004 epidemiologic data from a large, longitudinal sample suggested that nicotine also primes human brains to respond to cocaine." ...

"“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. ... 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 effects we saw in adult mice are probably even stronger in adolescent animals,” said Dr. Eric Kandel. “E-cigarettes may be a gateway to both combustible cigarettes and illicit drugs.”"

The Rest of the Story

There is no justification for drawing this sweeping conclusion based solely on studies of mouse brains, without a shred of clinical or epidemiologic evidence that suggests e-cigarettes serve as a gateway to smoking or illicit drug addiction. And I think it is inappropriate to engage in this kind of scaremongering.

This story further illustrates the depths to which electronic cigarette opponents are sinking. They cannot defend their opposition to e-cigarettes based on actual sound scientific research or reasoning. Thus, they have to either twist and distort the science or grossly extrapolate from studies that actually have little relevance to the clinical situation at hand.

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