Tobacco use in the United States has been evolving since e-cigarettes have come onto the market. In fact, according to the CDC, cigarette smoking reached an all-time low of 13.7% in 2018. At the same time, however, the prevalence of vaping increased, hitting over 3% in the general population.
While many users report vaping to replace their smoking habits, some are jumping on the bandwagon starting with vaping – often to relieve stress and mental health disorders. So, naturally, we have to ask: does vaping help with anxiety?
The Effect of Smoking Cigarettes on Mental Health
Before we discuss the effects of vaping on anxiety, let’s dissect vaping’s much older cousin: cigarette smoking.
Those who smoke cigarettes typically do so for the effects of nicotine as a form of self-medication. Inhaling certain drugs, such as those found in cigarette smoke, delivers the drug to the brain in a manner of seconds. The initial impact of nicotine is to:
- Improve mood
- Relieve stress and anxiety
- Decrease anger
- Relax your muscles
- Reduce your appetite
However, some research has shown that smoking can actually increase anxiety and tension over time. While nicotine can provide temporary relief, it’s still an addictive chemical. And, as soon as a regular supply is cut off, the relaxing effects of nicotine – especially combined with the thousands of other chemicals in cigarettes – lead to cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Among these is increased anxiety.
However, how do these results relate to vaping? Does vaping help with anxiety, as opposed to cigarettes?
Vaping and Physical Health
Vaping works similarly to cigarettes: you vaporize the liquid and inhale the contents in order to achieve some sort of high.
While vaping was once touted as a safer alternative to cigarettes, research has shown that it still carries some risks. According to Johns Hopkins, vaping nicotine is highly addictive and can raise your blood pressure, spike your adrenaline, and strain your heart. Additionally, the CDC has confirmed over 60 deaths from vaping-related illnesses, including the infamous “popcorn lung.” As such, they recommend that those who vape should never buy from illegitimate or backdoor sources and should not modify their liquids at home.
However, despite the risks of vaping, many individuals still report that vaping helps with their issues. Though the research is mixed, there are many personal success stories of users quitting their cigarette habit with vaping alternatives.
Nicotine Vaping and Anxiety
Another reason that many individuals vape is to help with pre-existing mental disorders such as anxiety. In fact, one analysis of 40 unique articles – published in the peer-reviewed journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research – found that disorders such as anxiety, ADHD, and stress were related to higher usage of nicotine and e-cigarettes. However, this study was unable to postulate whether anxiety caused the vaping, or vice versa.
Other studies report mixed results on when or not vaping does help with anxiety. For instance, one academic review of 148 studies published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research determined that among nicotine vapers and smokers both:
- Over half of the studies showed that anxiety or depression had an increased correlation with vaping after the diagnosis
- One-third of the studies showed that vapers and smokers developed anxiety or depression after they started smoking
- A handful of studies showed the vaping and anxiety occurred around the same time
Thus, this review suggests that there is no standalone evidence of direct causality in any of the underlying studies. In other words, the evidence is mixed on whether vaping nicotine helps with anxiety – or causes it.
CBD Vaping and Anxiety
Nicotine isn’t the only substance available to smoke in a vape pen, however. Many companies – especially in states where recreational marijuana is legal – have approved liquid CBD for vapes. As such, some research is now emerging on the effects of CBD on anxiety. While most of these focus on oral administration, the dam is beginning to break, and studies on vaping CBD and anxiety are trickling through.
For instance, Medical News Today reports that a multitude of studies show that CBD – including vaped CBD – have the potential to treat:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Social anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder (PD)
- Trauma-induced disorders such as PTSD
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Additionally, one geriatric clinic’s examination of 568 patients revealed that almost 25% of respondents reported using cannabis or CBD to self-treat their anxiety disorders via various methods, including vaping. The results of this analysis were published in The American Journal of Geriatric Society.
Another review addressed the effects of CBD on the whole as a treatment for anxiety. While the methods of consuming CBD varied – as did the dosage – the paper, published in the peer-reviewed journal Neurotherapeutics, found that:
- Existing evidence supports CBD as an effective treatment for multiple anxiety disorders
- Human studies show that CBD promotes an anxiolytic (relaxing) effect
- Too few studies have looked into dosing regulations to recommend standard dosages
In Conclusion: Does Vaping Help With Anxiety?
The answer? It depends on what you smoke.
As the results above indicate, the jury is still out on whether vaping in general does help with anxiety. While the data clearly shows that smoking cigarettes increases your anxiety in the long-term, the data on vaping is a little fuzzier. This is partially due to the fact that not everyone is vaping the same substance.
If smoking cigarettes increases anxiety due to the effects of nicotine withdrawal, it follows that vaping nicotine is likely to give you similar effects. While there are fewer chemicals in a vape cartridge than a cigarette, it’s still likely that nicotine is addicting in either form.
On the other hand, data shows that oral CBD can be very beneficial in helping ease anxiety. While many studies are not properly controlled due to the inconsistent labeling laws for CBD packagers, the evidence is beginning to peek out that vaping CBD may help with anxiety.