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Vaping Linked to Mental Health Issues

Vaping might not be as unhealthy as smoking cigarettes, but it carries its own long list of physical risks. And now, new research indicates it may be harmful to mental health and sleep patterns, too.

As researchers from England's University of Surrey have found, young adults aged 18-25 who use nicotine vape products were significantly more likely to experience a range of mental health issues than their non-vaping peers, including depression, anxiety, and rumination or dwelling on negative thoughts, as well as sleep issues like insomnia and emotional problems such as loneliness.

Published in the journal Healthcare, this new study surveyed more than 300 university students, about 15 percent of whom did vape and the other 85 percent of whom didn't, using a battery of questionnaires related to mindfulness and emotional regulation, anxiety and depression, rumination, sleep quality, loneliness, self-compassion — and, of course, vaping and cigarette usage.

Of the 49 students who were vape users, there were some traits seen across the board, including lower levels of mindfulness, worse sleep quality, and heightened levels of rumination. They tended to be lonelier and have both less compassion for themselves and a much higher tendency of being diurnal or "night owls" than their non-vaping counterparts. Furthermore, the vape group also "reported significantly higher levels of alcohol consumption in terms of units consumed per week," the study notes.

Perhaps the biggest shared characteristic among the vaping group, as Surrey neuroscience lecturer and study co-author Dr. Simon Evans said in the university's press release, was an overwhelming tendency towards anxiety, with a whopping "95.9 percent of users being categorized as having clinical levels of anxiety symptoms."

"In this study, we found a disturbing link between vape use and anxiety symptoms," Evans continued, "and it can become a vicious cycle of using a vape to soothe anxiety but then being unable to sleep, making you feel worse in the long run."

With data from other studies about cigarette smoking suggesting that mindfulness, or the attenuation to one's emotional and mental regulation in the moment, can help with smoking cessation, the good doctor said that there may well be interventions regarding mindfulness and "combating rumination" that "could be useful to reduce vape use amongst young people."

Important to note: this is a type of research where it's very hard to pin down the relationship between correlation and causation. Are the students anxious because they're vaping, or do anxious kids tend to gravitate to vaping for a variety of social and psychological reasons? It's tough to say, and probably complicated.

That said, it's pretty amazing that such a small percentage of the youthful group surveyed for this study vaped at all, suggesting that the kids may be more alright than we give them credit for, relatively speaking.

More on mental health: Scientists Find Link Between ADHD, Depression and Hypersexuality