JUNE 23, 2015, GROTON, Conn. (NNS) – With their sleek advertising and streamlined appearance, electronic cigarettes have garnered quite a user base.
A 2011 study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that about one in five U.S. adult cigarette smokers have tried an electronic cigarette.
Of course with such high usage numbers, there exists a great opportunity for misuse or even illegal use note legal, health and law enforcement professionals at Naval Submarine Base New London (SUBASE).
“E-cigs,” as they are commonly called as well as personal vaporizers (PVs) are essentially electronic nicotine delivery systems providing battery-powered doses of nicotine and other additives to the user in an aerosol.
Some of those other additives can be THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the mind-altering chemical from the cannabis plant that gets one “high”) according to Lt. j.g. Ashley Belyea, a command services attorney stationed at SUBASE’s Region Legal Service Office.
Products containing THC are now marketed for e-cigs as “hash oil,” “cannabis oil,” and “marijuana oil.” Use of such products by Navy personnel is illegal and can raise a host of problems.
“Limited regulations and online ordering of such oils make it easier for Sailors to gain access to THC,” said Belyea. “So this technological innovation that’s the e-cig can impact drug use, good order and discipline, and the health and safety of our Sailors.”
The tell-tale smell of burning cannabis is almost impossible to detect when it’s transformed into THC oil for e-cigs, and it’s also often masked by the smell of flavors such as “strawberry” and “chocolate,” notes Belyea. Moreover, she points out that THC is often more concentrated in its oil form.
“Because the concentration levels can be significantly higher with THC oil in an e-cig, a Sailor can receive dangerously high levels of THC very quickly,” said Belyea. “And if using a laced e-cig at a party or bar, a Sailor may have no idea how concentrated the dose is.”
Ingesting high doses of THC can pose severe health risks cautions Lt. Cmdr. Michael Sracic, a medical doctor and the Public Health Department Head at Naval Branch Health Clinic Groton.
“THC use results in a wide range of effects, both physical and mental,” said Sracic. “High dosage can lead to issues beyond breathing problems and illnesses. Hallucinations paranoia, increased heart rate, and the chance of heart attack could all result.”
Lt. Cmdr. James Hegarty, department head for Behavioral Health at NBHC, expressed his deep concerns as well, especially for synthetic versions of THC that are marketed as “safe” or “legal” alternatives to cannabis or marijuana.
“The really scary part here is that both the civilian and military communities alike are seeing devastating effects from Spice and synthetic THC usage,” said Hegarty. “Many users begin to experience severe paranoia, hallucinations, agitation, seizures and various cardiovascular effects. It can be the first time you try it, or the 20th, either way people who chose to experiment with these synthetic drugs are playing a game of Russian roulette. Every time someone tries it, there is simply no way to know exactly what it’s laced with or how it is going to interact with your genetics. Sadly, in some cases these effects can be permanent. Some users have fundamentally changed their lives forever.”
Laced e-gigs are a problem that Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), special agent, Nate O’Connor, often sees as he works on the front lines of drug abuse and trafficking.
“It’s crucial that Sailors know exactly what is in an e-cig before they inhale,” said O’Connor. “Whether the e-cig belongs to you or not, it is your responsibility to know what is in the e-cig. Lack of knowledge is not an excuse, and you will be investigated.”
That Sailor will also be accountable, highlights Belyea.
“The Navy has ‘Zero Tolerance’ for drug abuse,” said Belyea. “THC is an illegal drug as far as the Navy is concerned. It’s screened for during urinalysis, and users are essentially ending their Navy careers.”
Belyea, Sracic, and O’Connor all warn that, despite their popularity, e-cigs offer a great opportunity for misuse or even illegal use.
“Sailors defend the Constitution so choosing to use an e-cigarette is their right and a freedom of choice,” said O’Connor. “However, no matter the intent or situation, THC e-cig ingestion has legal, health and law enforcement consequences.”