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Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC)

E-Cigarettes, a Delivery System for Unknown Drugs

In December, a student at the Indiana University Purdue University campus reported being incapacitated and sexually assaulted after smoking an e-cigarette. The student reported that the e-cigarette contained an unknown substance. Even if the student had been given a drug test, the contents of the cigarette’s fluid may not have been identified. Inhaled drugs may leave the body so rapidly that standard drug tests may not reveal what was actually in the e-cigarette fluid.  Users have no guarantee that they are inhaling what they believe they are inhaling, or have not even seen a list of ingredients.  For years prevention professionals and law enforcement have cautioned people to watch their drinks at parties and in bars, but haven’t given the same warning to be cautious of unknown drugs in vaporizer pens.

An e-cigarette, or vape/vaporizer pen is a battery-powered device that heats and vaporizes or aerosolizes a fluid that users then inhale. There is no government oversight or regulation of these devices and most are made overseas. Any soluble substance may be poured into the heating chamber of an electronic cigarette. Fluids sold on the open market for use in these pens may contain nicotine (in varied amounts) usually in a base of propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin. The liquid is sold in a wide variety of flavors, such as Mint, Cinnamon Danish, Milk Chocolate, Red Velvet Cake, and Carmel Cappuccino.

Marijuana “wax,” “honey oil,” “shatter,” or hash oil has a much higher percentage of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol -- the active ingredient in marijuana) than smoked marijuana.  Hash or honey oil’s THC content may be as high as 80% while marijuana is closer to 15%. Hash oil is made by extracting marijuana resin from the plant using solvents. Street hash oil makers often use  butane in this process. Butane may explode or start fires.

Until recently, the concern about e-cigarettes was that they are an unregulated nicotine delivery system. Manufacturers began creating flavors to entice young people, and offered artificial marijuana herb or spice mixes. Sellers now advertise their devices for use of wax or hash oil to buyers in medical marijuana states and for recreational use.  In addition to the content of the fluid, e-cigarettes produce more than just a “vapor;” the devices produce particles which are inhaled by users and second-hand by bystanders with unknown effects on health.

The refill fluids can be hazardous, even if the product is used as advertised. A baby in New York died after drinking liquid nicotine. The Association of Poison Control Centers has reported escalating numbers of calls due to children being exposed to e-cigarette fluids, the numbers jumped from 460 calls in 2012 to 2,724 as of August 2014.

Results from the annual youth survey conducted by the University of Michigan, “Monitoring the Future” (MTF) reported that more students were using vapor pens than smoking regular cigarettes or pipes. For example, sixteen percent of 10th grade students reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, while 7% used tobacco cigarettes.   Monitoring the Future is a national random sample of 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students conducted by the Social Research Institute at the University of Michigan.

This year’s Indiana Youth Survey (IYS) asks 6th-12th grade students about their use of electronic cigarettes.  The results cover more grades than Monitoring the Future and only collect Indiana data. School corporations who participate in the IYS will be able to target their prevention strategies when they know the extent of their problem.

In Indiana, state legislation is proposed that will regulate manufacturers and sellers of the liquids used in e-cigarettes. The bill will not contain Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s recommendations for imposing an excise tax on the products and banning their use where traditional tobacco products are not permitted.


  • Adams, Matt.  (December 18, 2014). IUPUI student reports being drugged by e-cigarette, raped by online acquaintance.  http://fox59.com/2014/12/18/iupui-student-reports-being-drugged-via-e-cigarette-raped-by-online-acquaintance/
  • Barboza, David.  (December 13, 2014).  China’s E-Cigarette Boom Lacks Oversight for Safety. NewYork Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/14/business/international/chinas-e-cigarette-boom-lacks-oversight-for-safety-.html?_r=0
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  • Smith, Brandon (March 5, 2015). Vaping Legislation Will Not Include E-Cigarette Regulations.  Indiana Public Media. http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/vaping-legislation-include-ecigarette-regulations-79036/
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By Carole Nowicke, 3/30/2015