A study recently published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that from 2013 to 2020, the rate of adolescents in the U.S. and Canada who said they had used a vaping device at any point to ingest cannabis doubled, to more than 13%.

Over that same time period, the journal article said, the number of teen children who said they'd vaped cannabis within 30 days of being surveyed increased sevenfold.

New Jersey's recreational marijuana marketplace has been slow to materialize after being overwhelmingly approved by voters in November 2020, but even though the eventually legal products will theoretically only be sold to adults, they could and likely will find their way into the hands of younger residents.

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So the upward trend of cannabis vaping may continue, according to Dr. Lewis Nelson, chair of the department of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

"We know it's been a struggle to keep alcohol out of the hands of young people, and cigarettes out of the hands of young people, so I think we're going to have some difficulty," Nelson said.

He said cigarettes are a close cousin to cannabis when it comes to vaping appeal, because vaping products take away the odors associated with smoking.

But what that may also mask is the potency of what's being inhaled, according to Nelson.

"The real problem is that people are using this in a covert way, and it's a substance that has long-lasting and potentially damaging implications," he said. "When it's distilled out of the plant and put into a container that you can then vape, the concentration, it could be substantially higher, and the risks of course proportional to the concentration, because it's very difficult to control the dose."

Legalizing recreational marijuana figures to increase its use, Nelson said, but at least those users — even underage ones — will know the amount they are getting.

At least, hopefully. That is where Nelson hopes lawmakers will concentrate their efforts as the market opens.

"One of the ways that we might be able to mitigate that a little bit is with really clear labeling and instructions, and that's something that many states that didn't do that when they started their programs learned," he said.

Marijuana is less risky than heroin, cocaine, or even alcohol overall, Nelson said, but added it can still lead to bad decision-making, injury, or medical problems down the road.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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