Did you know that over 51 million people suffer from bipolar disorder, and about 70 percent of these patients are daily smokers? Comparatively, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 25 percent of the global population is addicted to smoking. With such enormously high smoking rates attributed to the bipolar community, is it any wonder that their physicians are very anxious to find a smoking cessation tool that helps the patients quit smoking without all those nasty withdrawal symptoms?
While quitting smoking can cause even the healthiest smoker to experience episodes of increased anxiety, moodiness, agitation, and depression, these symptoms are usually exacerbated considerably among bipolar patients. Because severe manic episodes can sometimes lead to life-threatening consequences, medical professionals are often reluctant to recommend that their bipolar patients quit smoking.
Conventional nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs)
Traditional stop-smoking aids are often ineffective simply because they fail to address the psychological factors of smoking addiction. Whether you are bipolar or not, smokers tend to become just as addicted to the hand-to-mouth actions of smoking as they are to the combustible tobacco product itself. Smokers also become mentally addicted to smoking during certain times of day, such as early in the morning, when drinking that first cup of coffee, while talking on the telephone, or whenever getting behind the wheel of a car.
While conventional nicotine replacement therapies like gums, lozenges, and patches do little to heal these mental triggers, many studies now indicate that switching to vaping does. The actions involved with vaping are nearly identical to those of smoking, which means that bipolar patients can gain the benefits of tobacco harm reduction without escalating their stress and anxiety levels which can lead to increased manic episodes.
The vaping and bipolar disorder study
Addiction counselors across the world have been recommending substitution therapies for decades to their patients entering the initial stages of recovery. For example, because an overindulgence in alcoholic beverages often causes an imbalance in the body’s blood sugar levels, newly recovering alcoholics are often counselled to substitute candies and cookies for their favorite beverage of choice during periods of extreme temptation. A group of scientists from New Zealand and Australia are using this same concept as the basis for an e-cig study involving bipolar patients.
Led by Dr. Ratika Sharma of the University of Queensland, Australia, the research team followed thousands of smoking patients suffering from bipolar, schizophrenia, and other severe mental illnesses. Over a two-year period, their addiction counselors provided patients with vaping supplies and a designated location within the facilities to vape openly. Patients were not required to transition from smoking to vaping, but those that chose to do so were supported and encouraged by the associated medical staff.
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What the Aussie research team later determined is that patients switching to vaping experienced less severe withdrawal symptoms compared to quitters using the old-fashion, cold-turkey method or those using convention NRTs. The vapers also experienced fewer manic episodes, episodes that were less severe in nature, and lower occurrences of patient-to-staff violence. The findings would eventually be published in the Sage Journal in a peer-reviewed report entitled Should we encourage smokers with severe mental illness to switch to electronic cigarettes?
“Smokers with SMI who are unable to quit smoking could benefit from long-term substitution of combustible tobacco with ‘clean’ nicotine product such as e-cigarettes (tobacco harm reduction). E-cigarettes deliver the nicotine to which smokers are addicted without the products of combustion that cause almost all the adverse health effects of smoking (Royal College of Physicians [RCP] , 2016). E-cigarette vapour contains low levels of toxins, but the Royal College of Physicians estimates the long-term risk from e-cigarette use (vaping) as likely to be no more than 5% of smoking tobacco (RCP, 2016). Similar harm reduction strategies are widely used for other harmful behaviours, such as the opiate substitution therapy and clean needle exchange to reduce risks from intravenous opiate use.”
The researchers also include in their resource material the findings of a 2015 study by the UK Royal College of Physicians which states that electronic cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than smoking. They also reference the Smoking Toolkit Study published in the UK as another helpful tool for recommendation to bipolar patients by their counselors and medical professionals. And finally, the scientists specifically mention that substitution therapies involving vaping can be extremely beneficial for patients suffering from opioid addiction, a condition that is running rampant in the United States in recent years.