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UCSD study shows e-cigarettes inflame organs including the lungs and the brain

A battery powered vaping device and a liquid pod, which contains a very strong dose of nicotine.  April 26, 2022
Courtesy of UCSD
A battery powered vaping device and a liquid pod, which contains a very strong dose of nicotine. April 26, 2022

Modern e-cigarettes have negative health effects that include inflammation of the brain, lungs and colon, according to a recent study by UC San Diego researchers. Their findings suggest the use of e-cigarettes could lead to more than just addiction to nicotine.

This latest study of e-cigarettes examined fourth generation pod devices that vaporize flavored products made by JUUL, which has recently dominated the market.

The liquid pods, used in the new devices, deliver much bigger nicotine hits than what was used in earlier e-cigarettes.


"It's about 20 times as much nicotine, at least." said lead researcher Laura Crotty Alexander, a professor in the UCSD Medical School.

She said mice that inhaled these aerosols showed inflammation of several organs, including the very tight cavity of the brain.

"The brain doesn't have anywhere to go," Crotty Alexander said. "So you get the swelling and you're bringing in inflammatory cells into a space that was not designed to have swelling and inflammation."

She said those effects were found in parts of the brain that control moods and memory.

“We're particularly worried that our findings suggest that people who use these e-cigarettes may be at risk for anxiety, depression, and also alterations in memory," Crotty Alexander said.


Companies have marketed e-cigarettes as a safe alternative to cigarettes, since they don't have the carcinogens that come with burning tobacco. But that does not mean they are safe.

Crotty Alexander said anything inhaled into the lungs has a direct line to the bloodstream. And the liquid pods that e-cigarettes vaporize contain many chemicals whose health effects are unknown.

She said the study looked at “mint” and “mango” flavored JUUL products and that each type results in different levels of inflammation in the body.

JUUL has been sued by many states, including California, for marketing its products to minors. So far, the company has paid a $40 million settlement to North Carolina and a $14.5 million settlement to Arizona.

Among the known health effects of e-cigarettes are lung injuries, believed to be caused by toxic chemical fumes.

"What we see with these vaping cases is a kind of severe chemical injury that I've never seen before in a tobacco smoker or a traditional marijuana smoker," said Dr. Brandon Larson, a surgical pathologist at the Mayo Clinic Arizona. He made his comments on theMayo Clinic News Network.

Some e-cigarettes include products made with THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.

Crotty Alexander said she hopes to do a long-term study that follows e-cigarette users over many years, to see the progression of health effects associated with vaping. For now, she said, kids and even young adults with developing brains, need to know how vaping can harm them.

"They should really be informed and know that not only are e-cigarettes addictive, and you might get hooked on them," she said, "but they might fundamentally alter their brain and then have long-standing mood, memory, behavioral problems because of using these devices."

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