Vaping: The New Gateway Drug

What to do after you leave treatment (my own opinion).
October 12, 2019

Vaping: The New Gateway Drug

This month’s post is a guest post by Brook Mckenzie who is the Director, Clinical Outreach and Family Liaison for New Methold Wellness – I thought with our current stories in the media about Vaping, this was an interesting read.

Chris Kennedy says he was on track to attend his second year of college on a soccer scholarship.  Not the teammate to miss consecutive practices, it was noticed when, in late July, Chris, the 20-year-old soccer prodigy from Vista, Ca, suddenly stopped showing up to camp. Just a semester previous, Chris reports he had started vaping THC, roughly about a half a gram per week. Like many of his teammates, Chris says he put academics and soccer first, rarely partied and made his scholastic commitments the priority.  Chris looked forward to a bright future as a professional athlete playing for LA Galaxy.

Suddenly, things took a turn for the worse. But this time it wasn’t a vaping illness like we read about in the press, and didn’t involve a fever, a hospitalization; or even a cough.

As it happens, vaping THC was just the beginning of something much more devastating. To hear it in Chris’s own words, “It was the beginning, the actual gateway, to experimenting with other drugs, ultimately heroin.”

Chris dropped out of College before officially starting his Sophomore year. He still loved soccer. His teammates rallied around him. One of his professors even sent him a private e-mail, “Chris, your presence on campus will be deeply missed. One of my favorite A students, you brought laughter and fun to the topic of Chemistry. Who would have thought that a paper on Raoult’s Law could include cartoon illustrations of phenomenological law!”

But Chris was now on heroin. Even with a group of peers, loving parents, and the many latent talents he had worked hard to develop on the soccer field, these things were not enough to distract him from an all-consuming addiction to heroin.

So how did this happen? To hear Chris tell it, the story is really very common, “I had heard some of the bad things about vaping, but so many of my friends were vaping nicotine on the weekends, or between class; they all seemed fine so I tried it and it didn’t seem like a big deal. You see commercials for it. It is sold in the stores, there are even cool flavors like Fruity Loops. So anyway, I started vaping Nicotine. It wasn’t a big deal and I never smoke cigarettes.”
Chris doesn’t report any consequences from his time vaping nicotine, and during the middle of his freshman year when he switched to vaping THC, there still didn’t seem to be any presenting nuisance. “I vaped THC because it felt cleaner, and honestly, less stinky than smoking marijuana in a joint or a bong. There’s really no smell when you vape it, but it still gets you buzzed all the same. It’s not like people were getting locked up or kicked out of school for vaping THC. It just wasn’t a huge deal. Tons of kids were doing it.”

And that’s how things went for a while. Chris was an A student, a starting fullback on the soccer team, and even working nights in the computer lab doing minor PC repairs and upgrades. It wasn’t until he went to buy more THC pods for his vape one afternoon toward the end of his Freshman year that he met Allison. A few years older than Chris, Allison was a frequent buyer at the marijuana dispensary where a variety of vape pods could be purchased.  The problem was, purchasing vape pods requires the buyer to be 21 years old and Chris, at that time, was coming up on his 20th birthday.

“The exchange was harmless enough. I asked her to be me some pods. She was happy top do it. Simple as that.” And so Chris had his middleman. This went on for a few weeks until one day Allison asked Chris if he had ever tried heroin. “We had exchanged phone numbers, we texted here and there. When she asked me if I had ever tried heroin I thought she was joking.”

But she wasn’t. Allison had been using heroin for years. By the end of his Freshman year, and only three months after meeting Allison, Chris started experimenting with heroin; snorting it. “It was cheap, ten or twenty bucks lasted me a whole day; maybe two. I didn’t feel like it something that was going to get out of hand. Vaping THC hadn’t been a problem for me. It’s not like I was robbing my family to get it; or living on the streets. I had heard all the bad things about vaping that didn’t seem to add up; so I figure the same was probably true for heroin. I wanted to try it and see for myself.”

Chris admits that the decision to try heroin felt, in the beginning, like a far greater risk than vaping THC. “I’m not stupid. It’s not like I didn’t question myself. I just wanted to try it and see. It never occurred to me that I would use it more than once. I didn’t even pay for the first little line that Allison gave me. But I snorted that first line, and that was it. I knew. I knew I wanted to always do heroin. I don’t think I ever vaped THC again after that; it felt like a waste of money; the high from heroin was so much better.”

By the time Chris started missing soccer practice that summer in July, he had only been using heroin for two months. “That’s how fast it was. I was hooked. After about a week I was buying it two or three times a day. I was using five times as much as I did the first time I tried it just to get the same high.”

Before long, Chris was robbing his family. “I would come by, steal twenty bucks; take something from the garage and pawn it, like my Dad’s deep-sea fishing rods and reels. I always planned on replacing it. But then the next day I needed more money for heroin. So I would steal again.”

Only two months into his heroin addiction, while at home for the summer break, Chris’s dad confronted him about some missing money. “I didn’t lie to him. He’s my Dad; he knows me better than anyone. I told him the truth.  I told him that I was addicted to heroin and that I stole the money.”

Like any family faced with a crisis, the Kennedy family huddled together to a game plan. Chris was willing to get help and his family was ready to jump into action. Before the summer was out, Chris took a medical leave from his Sophomore year, hung up his jersey, and checked himself into rehab. It wasn’t difficult for Chris to connect the dots; had he never started vaping nicotine, he would have never vaped THC. As Chris states, “For me, it was what I heard about in elementary and middle school about the Gateway Drug. That’s what it was. I never set out to be a heroin addict. I experimented with vaping, never intending to wind up out of college and in rehab. If I could have done one thing differently, I would have never vaped that very first time.”

Chris suggests that he is one of the lucky ones. He is on track to start back to school in the spring, he still has a spot on the team waiting for him. The one thing he doesn’t have anymore is the belief that “vaping is no big deal.”

By Brook Mckenzie
Brook McKenzie serves as the Director of Clinical Outreach and Family Liaison for New Method Wellness. An experienced interventionist, Brook works directly with the family to facilitate interruption of the loved one’s active addiction cycle, discontinue enabling factors, and help expedite the loved one’s entry into treatment. Featured as an addiction expert on multiple episodes of the Dr. Phil Show, Brook is a published contributor for U.S. News and World Report, MSN, Yahoo Lifestyle,

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