New York:Many people believe that electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes as they are commonly known, are a safe alternative to cigarette smoking. However, a study suggests that they may actually promote the use and addiction to illicit drugs.
According to the findings, e-cigarettes may act as a ‘gateway drug,’ or a drug that lowers the threshold for addiction to other substances such as marijuana and cocaine.
‘While e-cigarettes eliminate some of the health effects associated with combustible tobacco, they are solely nicotine-delivery devices,’ said co-author Denise Kandel, a professor at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) in the United States.
‘Nicotine clearly acts as a gateway drug on the brain, and this effect is likely to occur whether the exposure is from smoking cigarettes, passive tobacco smoke, or e-cigarettes,’ said co-author and CUMC professor Eric Kandel.
E-cigarettes have been promoted as a tool for reducing traditional cigarette use and the harmful health effects of combustible tobacco.
However, given the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes, particularly among adolescents and young adults, the researchers believe that more effective prevention programmes for all nicotine-containing products should be developed.
‘Our findings provided a biologic basis for the sequence of drug use observed in humans,’ said Eric Kandel.
‘One drug alters the brain’s circuitry in such a way that the effects of a subsequent drug are enhanced,’ he added.
The researchers went over Denise Kandel’s earlier work on the gateway hypothesis and the role of nicotine as a gateway drug, which was published in the journal Science in 1997.
The current study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine online.