Could E-Cigarettes Really Be "Gateway Drugs" To Harder Substances?

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Getty Images

There's plenty of discussion about whether or not e-cigarettes are a "safe alternative" to tobacco cigarettes, as they are largely marketed and perceived. Anyone with a WiFi connection can contribute to its growing list of cons, from the product's harmful effects on children to the FDA’s proposition to ban selling them to minors. Welp, a new study claims that e-cigarettes are, allegedly, “gateway drugs,” that could potentially lead to the addiction of harder drugs, like cocaine. For real?

According to HNGN, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that nicotine could be a “gateway drug” to — or eventually lead to the use of — harder substances, like cocaine and marijuana. What falls under the nicotine umbrella? You guessed it, e-cigarettes. Dr. Denise Kendal, a professor of sociomedical sciences for Columbia University and researcher for the study, tells Time that e-cigarettes, like tobacco cigarettes, are essentially “nicotine-delivery devices,” and that they’re a “powerful facilitator for addiction to cocaine and perhaps other drugs as well…”

In other words: nicotine could be a “gateway drug” to harder drugs. E-cigarettes dispense nicotine. E-cigarettes could possibly be considered “gateway drugs” to harder drugs.

Time notes that the Denise and husband/research partner Dr. Eric Kandel, have been studying the nicotine for years, observing it’s correlation with other drugs in mice. They discovered that nicotine enhances the effects of cocaine, because it activates a "reward-related gene." The team also found that a large number of people who take cocaine also smoke (nicotine products) at the same time. Through their data, they came to the conclusion that people who use nicotine often eventually start using harder substances, and that despite originally being advertised to help smokers quit, e-cigarettes can definitely contribute to this problem.

Now, despite this study's claims, it seems as though research on e-cigarettes often gets a little, well, exaggerated. In the past, numbers regarding the harmful effects of the liquid used in e-cigarettes on kids has been over-hyped, fueling the ongoing e-cigarette controversy.

Either way, it's probably a good idea to stay away from these things if possible. You never know.