Researchers at UC San Diego school of medicine found that the daily use of pod-based e-cigarettes alters inflammation in multiple organ systems, most notably in the brain.
More than 12 million adults in the United States use e-cigarettes, with the highest rates of use among those aged 18-24. With the rise in daily use of pod-based e-cigarettes, researchers found it alters inflammation organ systems such as the brain, heart, lungs, and colon.
The way that organs respond to infections may vary depending on the flavor used by the smoker, according to the study.
“These pod-based e-cigarettes have only become popular in the last five or so years, so we don't know much about their long-term effects on health,'' said senior study author Dr. Laura Crotty Alexander, associate professor of medicine at UCSD School of Medicine and section chief of pulmonary critical care at Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System.
The study was the first of it’s kind to assess JUUL devices and their flavorants in a multi-organ fashion. Research on e-cigarettes has been largely limited to studies of short-term use, older devices such as vape pens or box mods, and e-liquids with significantly lower nicotine concentrations than the modern rechargeable pod-based systems.
According to Crotty Alexander, the current most prominent e-cigarette brand is JUUL, and its most popular flavors are mint and mango. Young adult mice were exposed to flavored JUUL aresols three times a day for three months to model chronic e-cigarette use.
Researchers searched for inflammation across the body and found that the brain region that is critical for movement and reward processing showed several elevated inflammatory markers. Inflammation in these regions is linked to anxiety, depression, and addictive behaviors.
“Many JUUL users are adolescents or young adults whose brains are still developing, so it's pretty terrifying to learn what may be happening in their brains considering how this could affect their mental health and behavior down the line,'' Crotty Alexander said.
The human brain keeps developing until about the age of 25, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Recent data released in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows about 2.55 million U.S. middle and high school students reported current use of a tobacco product in 2021.
A recent report found 2.06 million middle school and high school students claiming to use e-cigarettes in 2021.
“Each time a new memory is created or a new skill is learned, stronger connections – or synapses – are built between brain cells. Young people’s brains build synapses faster than adult brains. Nicotine changes the way these synapses are formed,” the CDC wrote.
After one month of e-cigarette exposure, researchers found increased inflammation in the colon which poses an increased risk for gastrointestinal disease. Researchers also found that while lungs did not show tissue-level signs of inflammation, numerous changes were observed in the samples, calling for further study on pulmonary health.
The heart showed decreased levels of inflammatory markers, making it more susceptible to infection.
“This was a real surprise to us,'' Crotty Alexander said. “This shows us that the flavor chemicals themselves are also causing pathological changes. If someone who frequently uses menthol-flavored JUUL e-cigarettes was infected with COVID-19, it's possible their body would respond differently to the infection.''
The study can be found at https://elifesciences.org/articles/67621.