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Drugs getting stronger and affecting younger kids, e-cigs part of problem

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Electronic cigarettes are pictured at a production line in a factory in Shenzhen, southern Chinese province of Guangdong January 15, 2014. R
Electronic cigarettes are pictured at a production line in a factory in Shenzhen, southern Chinese province of Guangdong January 15, 2014. R

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) -- Drug use is affecting younger people, and one expert says drugs are stronger and electronic cigarettes and vape pens are part of the problem.

Sue Nowak is an alcohol and drug prevention specialist who travels around Wisconsin, educating groups and individuals about drug issues. She says we are seeing a change in the use of marijuana with more potent pot and younger kids using it. “It used to be 12, 13, 14-years-old. We’re seeing kids as young as 8 and 9 years old that are already using, but it really has to do with access, what they can get in their own home or in a friend’s house. That’s one thing, but then the strength of the THC has changed so much, so what used to be one maybe two percent THC, now we’re seeing it anywhere from 18, 24, up to 36 percent THC, and that’s just in our communities.”

Nowak says people who use marijuana have found a way to make it more potent, and less detectable. “What they’re doing is taking butane lighters, and they’re actually kind of melting down or processing the marijuana, the flowers, the buds, and they’re making it into a wax. The wax is extremely potent. There’s several different recipes on how to it, and they they can use the wax. They can smoke it, they can smoke it the vape pens.”

If you believe electronic cigarettes and vape pens are simply a replacement for tobacco cigarettes, Nowak says think again.  “Any product that you can smoke can somehow be concentrated and put into these pens.”

She says people have figured out how to use other drugs in these devices, and in most cases, without the obvious signs and smells.  “For them, the person that’s using it, because you can’t smell the drug necessarily, that’s what makes it really, really convenient. Kids are even getting the ideas that it’s just water in the vapor pen, but that’s not true.”

When it comes to medical use of marijuana, Nowak says she believes there are legitimate medical uses for marijuana, but you don’t have to smoke it to get the benefits. “I think if you’re looking at marijuana medically, you have to look at the positives and the negatives, and you’ve got to weigh out both sides. I do believe that marijuana has got good medical usage, but we also have three types of pills that are out there that are synthetic forms where they have taken chemicals out of the marijuana, the positives out of marijuana, and put it in a pill form so you’re not smoking it, and it does have some positive effects.”

Electronic cigarettes and vape pens have liquid flavors that have not been studied, and Nowak says the liquid nicotine people use to replace regular cigarettes is highly toxic. “One tablespoon of nicotine can be toxic for an adult, and one teaspoon of nicotine can be toxic for a child, so if you look at the new electronic cigarettes, you look at the vape pens, they’re putting different kinds of liquids in it, but there’s been no research on the liquids. The other thing is that they are adding flavorings to these. We don’t know what those flavorings are doing to the body and to the brain.”

Nowak says the drugs are more dangerous, and the vapor devices and liquids are dangerous. She urges people to stop using them and get help to quit, and above all, don’t let your kids gain access to the devices or materials.

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