Millions of Americans suffer from anxiety. While this condition has been around for thousands of years, it is hard for doctors to prescribe an easy cure. For that reason, many people who deal with anxiety have turned to alternative treatments that are also cost-effective. People often say vaping is one of the most affordable ways to relieve anxiety, but the truth is much more complicated.
In college, I had a roommate who suffered from severe separation anxiety. At one point, it became so bad that she stopped going to class. After several weeks of watching her get worse, a friend suggested she walk outside with him to smoke. After smoking cigarettes for a few days, she slowly started to get better.
Unfortunately, my roommate had also started an unhealthy habit that would affect her lungs later in life. Vaping, while not perfect, is somewhat safer than smoking cigarettes. But does vaping have the same effects as tobacco use? Can vaping e-liquid help with anxiety?
Smoking and Anxiety
For hundreds of years, many people have used tobacco to help with anxiety and mental health. Many people say that smoking has a positive effect and makes them feel a calm sensation. Still, studies have shown that cigarette smoking can trigger anxiety, probably because of the carbon monoxide a smoker inhales.
Panic attack disorders have a twelve times greater chance of appearing in smokers than non-smokers, for example. These disorders tend to appear after the person starts smoking, leading some scientists to theorize that the chemicals in tobacco, like nicotine, alter the way the brain handles and processes stress.
But do these effects carry over to people who use e-cigarettes? There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of people claiming that vaping helps relieve stress and anxiety.
A few small studies have shown that this may be related more to the rituals involved with using vaping devices. Therefore, it is the set of habits people develop when they vape, such as removing a cap or pressing a button a certain way, more than anything in the e-cigarettes themselves.
The chemicals in the vaping pen can vary a lot by manufacturer, but the primary ingredient in nearly all of them is nicotine. Nicotine is actually a stimulant, which on a surface level would imply that it would work against people with anxiety disorders. As a stimulant, nicotine will stimulate the brain, actually increasing the likelihood of panic attacks and poor mental health in general.
And yet, the belief that smoking helps reduce stress is so prevalent that people who suffer from anxiety disorders are three times more likely to try smoking. So, can vaping help with anxiety?
Does Vaping Help With Anxiety?
For many people who are used to being chemically dependent on a substance, say the chemicals in cigarette smoke, for instance, going without that substance can cause feelings of anxiety and stress. Yet, they can diminish those feelings by replacing smoking, drinking, or other addictive substances with vaping from an electronic cigarette.
In other words, people who are using other drugs to control their anxiety can often use vaping as a step-down method. Vaping can be used to “fill the hole” that other products leave when a person is trying to give them up.
For example, someone trying to give up pot might find that vaping can help them get through an anxiety attack that marijuana used to soothe. While the chemicals in the e-cigarette will likely do little to alter the brain chemistry of this person to reduce anxiety, replacing the ritual of smoking pot with vape devices can do a lot to create the same feeling of calm that smoking pot once fulfilled.
After a few days of using the vape as a replacement, the brain will come to associate the vape with feeling calm and content. For many people, that feeling goes a long way towards helping them reduce stress and anxiety issues and calm other mental health conditions, like depression.
Over a much longer period, the body will rely on the vape to calm down. At this point, you have a chemical dependence. So while the nicotine in vapes is a stimulant, it seems to have the opposite effect on a long-time user.
This pattern is the same as just about any addictive substance, and there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that shows this process reduces stressful situations. For example, a person who uses a vape before exams to help them calm down might not notice that it’s doing much at first. Over time, however, vaping nicotine can make a difference.
Finally, the money that you’ll save when switching to vaping, especially if you have a rechargeable device, can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
Developing a Habit
If you take steps by actively managing stress while using your vape, eventually, your brain will come to associate that feeling of calm with the use of the vape. Over several weeks, simply taking out the vape will induce a sense of calm that will help to control anxiety.
It is important to note that using a vape to control anxiety has to be done deliberately. You can’t just pick up a vape pen whenever you feel anxious and expect it to negate a stressful day all by itself. Instead, each user must decide to use the pen as an instrument to lower their anxiety. This method works primarily because of the strong connection between mental states and the placebo effect.
There are a few ways you can help vaping along in reducing stress. For instance, choose flavors that reduce anxiety (such as lavender and peppermint) and avoid those that act as stimulants.
Also, look for cartridges that contain lower levels of nicotine, or zero nicotine, and other harmful toxins. If you already use a certain amount of nicotine a day, bring yourself down gradually so as to not create withdrawal anxiety.
Additionally, you should note that even though vapes have fewer chemicals than regular cigarettes and tobacco smoke, you can still develop vaping-related illnesses, such as respiratory problems and popcorn lung from the nicotine presence.
If you want to quit smoking cigarettes but still like the stress-relieving feeling of your old smoking habits, vaping nicotine can help reduce stress and nicotine withdrawal.
Yet, vapers should beware because although vaping is better for you than cigarettes and vaping reduces stress, vaping can also lead to high blood pressure. Also, you are still inhaling trace amounts of other chemicals from your e-liquid. Therefore, it’s best to stop vaping altogether and talk with health professionals about your anxiety.
But I know we’re all human, so if you need help with your withdrawal symptoms, vaping helps to soothe cigarette cravings. Also, vaping has a few health benefits in the long run that those who use traditional cigarettes will not get.