ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Usually when someone is “in a fog,” something has left them unable to think clearly for a short time. Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) say people who either vape or smoke seem to be putting themselves in a fog and the effects could last a lot longer. Their studies find both children and adults who vape experience difficulties concentrating, remembering, and making decisions compared to their non-vaping peers.
In one of two URMC studies, examining over 18,000 middle and high school students, researchers say kids who start vaping before age 14 are more likely to suffer from mental fog as they grow up. The second study, looking at more than 886,000 Americans in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System phone survey, reveals adults who smoke or vape experience similar mental impairments that children do.
While previous studies show links between declining mental function and vaping in animals, this is the first report to draw the connection in humans.
Vaping leaves the brain up in smoke
Both national surveys find people that both smoke and vape are the most likely to say they struggle with mental function. The results are the same regardless of the user’s age.
People who either use vaping devices or smoke traditional tobacco products report suffering similar amounts of brain fog. Researchers note that whether it was vaping or smoking, these users still experience mental difficulties at much higher rates than non-smokers. For vapers however, the student survey reveals age does matter when it comes to vaping’s impact on the brain. Children who begin to vape between eight and 13 years-old report more trouble concentrating, remembering, and making decisions.
“With the recent rise in teen vaping, this is very concerning and suggests that we need to intervene even earlier,” Li adds. “Prevention programs that start in middle or high school might actually be too late.”
Nicotine’s impact on growing minds
Researchers say their findings spell trouble for adolescents jumping on the controversial trend. The study adds adolescence is a critical time for the brain’s growth, particularly as children develop more higher-order mental functions. This makes children more vulnerable to nicotine-induced brain changes.
Although e-cigarettes typically lack the plethora of harmful chemicals present in tobacco products, they can deliver even more nicotine into the body than traditional cigarettes. Li cautions that while the study points to nicotine exposure leading to brain fog, the reverse reaction may also be true. The team suggests the results could also mean people who report brain fog are more likely to smoke or vape, possibly as a way of self-medicating.