Vaping, E-Cigarettes and Schizophrenia

by Marvin Ross

A number of times over the past few years, I’ve written about the need for people with schizophrenia to smoke. Yes, it is dangerous to their physical health but it does help calm their brains. I’ve also written about the cruelty of hospitals that do not accommodate smokers with serious mental illness. It would not be that difficult but they refuse and, in one case, patients cannot even possess tobacco.

As a healthier alternative, I’ve suggested e-cigarettes that provide the needed nicotine but by the safer alternative of vaping. E-cigarettes enables  smokers to get their nicotine fix without the dangerous chemical byproducts of burning tobacco. Now, thanks to the FDA and the CDC, that option appears to be on the way out. Fortunately, Health Canada is reserving judgment and I hope that good sense and science will prevail.

At issue is the increase in the number of young people vaping who are developing serious lung problems resulting in seven cases, at time of writing, of death. We are now looking at a ban on e-cigarettes which would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Vaping nicotine should not be done by young people who do not smoke cigarettes nor should they be vaping coloured, flavoured products as it can lead to smoking. But, vaping nicotine may either help people who want to quit or be a healthier substitute for smoking cigarettes. An English study from 2018 found that “e-cigarettes may be a unique harm reduction innovation for smoking relapse prevention. E-cigarettes meet the needs of some ex-smokers by substituting physical, psychological, social, cultural and identity-related aspects of tobacco addiction.”

The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK found “E-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than tobacco and could be prescribed on the NHS in future to help smokers quit,” But what about the lung damage and deaths? According to Alex Bezerow, vice president of scientific affairs for the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), the damages and deaths caused by vaping were the result of people vaping THC infused oil that they got from the street. “THC is not soluble in water, so it has to be dissolved in oil. The oil of choice is vitamin E acetate” and “Inhaled oil can trigger lipoid pneumonia.”

As these products are purchased from the black market, they may contain other impurities. The FDA and the CDC, he suggests, are allowing myths and fear-mongering to govern their policies. If you are interested in the chemistry of how this damage and deaths is coming about, then Dr Josh Bloom with ACSH provides a simple explanation of the process. If nothing else, Bloom explains how PEZ was initially developed as a means to help people quit smoking.

Why ban e-cigarettes after 6 people died from using the device improperly according to the evidence available now when so many in the US are dying from gun attacks? Guns have killed far more than 6 people and yet the US refuses to do what every other civilized country has done.

Where is the logic?

2 thoughts on “Vaping, E-Cigarettes and Schizophrenia

  1. I’m a lifelong cigarette smoker who has quit and relapsed several times when overly stressed. The most successful program for me was the Lung Association’s smoking cessation program — a systematic approach to decreasing cigarette intake combined with social support. Everyone is different and different methods should be available. I have found when taking long flights and being unable to smoke that a nicotine patch combined with occasional inhaling of a nicotine inhaler get me through those trips. I have not tried anti-depressants or E-cigarettes because I don’t want to become dependent on pills, and I think E-cigarettes do not address the psychological aspects of tobacco addiction. Also I don’t believe inhaling hot smoke or vapor can be good for the lungs. Like most smokers, I illegally buy Reserve cigarettes as I cannot afford the outrageous taxes placed on retail cigarettes $14/ carton vs $70 per carton — one week supply. Enough about my experience with addiction..

    I remember the days when everyone smoked in psychiatric hospitals. We had a fire on one of the wards which destroyed the entire ward. Over time smoking was banned, first in hospital, and then even on hospital property. It was a difficult transition leading to much non-compliance, authoritarian punishments, and seclusions. Under the new draconian regime we had 2 fires on a ward in a 1 year period from clients smoking in their bedrooms We nurses devoted a great deal of energy and time to dealing with cigarettes on the unit — far too much time. I fought those battles and lost. It is a closed historic chapter. Cigarettes, marijuana, illicit drugs, remain very prevalent around psychiatric hospitals. It’s the not so secret elephant in the room.

    As for e-cigarettes today, firstly, all the pretty advertising and flavours should be banned. These are meant to attract youth to the product and it is working. The product itself lends itself to use as a bong for marijuana. For that reason I believe the E-cigarettes and materials should be available by prescription only to adults. I wouldn’t mind if they were banned outright. Smokers can go back to non-vapour nicotine inhalers and patches (which can be used anywhere, at work etc. as there is no vapour or odour), and non-smokers will not be attracted to those. This is a public health issue and should be addressed soon by governments.

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    1. I was a psychiatric nurse in U. K and, yes, most nurses smoked. It was not one of my sins. But here’s the thing. I do not think that we should be hard on people who have severe and persistent mental illnesses. Clearly they get some relief from puffing on cigarettes.

      The new Palace of Verseilles (sans mirrors) is a sight to behold. It has replaced the old Psychiatric Hospital and is very grand, even though it sports very few beds. It also has long-term patients with other terminal illness apart from those with major mental illnesses. This hospital is in a very rural lovely setting beside the lake.

      BUT every bench jotted about the grounds has a very large ugly authoritarian sign – a circle and a cigarette with a line drawn through it. NOT exactly a soothing emblem! These abominations are plonked right in the middle of the back of the benches facing the seat. I ask you? Nobody seems to be enticed enough to sit down (smoker or not) on any of these benches … and there are many of them. Buttocks beware!

      Two people (ex-patients) who work in the award-winning car wash, and who work really hard, can’t even sit down and enjoy a smoke when they have a short break. They are heavy smokers and friends. One of them has been a major public educator about his schizophrenia for nearly forty years. He is very urbane and wise even if he smokes. He has retired at the age of 65 (a couple of weeks ago) after car washing for many years. This is a man whom I have known since he was 24. He is unfortunate to have been afflicted with schizophrenia. But he has been a major contributor to society despite his diagnosis.

      For Saint Pete’s sake, why can’t he enjoy a smoke sitting on a bench outside the car wash manned by patients who dwell in the community? Since Schizophrenia is not yet preventable, let us leave these people in peace.

      The recent retiree once challenged Patch Adams with logic when he gave a talk in Toronto to the national SSC and SSO. Patch Adams was paid a lot of money to spew nonsense. My friend with his superior IQ has always been a gentleman. He cuts nonsense down to the root.

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