Juuling: St. Michael's Science Dad To Explore Affects Of Vaping Nicotine On Student Behavior

A St. Michael's College psychologist combined his concern as a father with his curiosity as a scientist to snag a grant to study the behavior of adolescents dosed on nicotine.

"The NIH grant I have is to give nicotine to young adults in my lab," said Ari Kirshenbaum, an associate professor of psychology, giving a nutshell version of his National Institute of Health research.

"Then we evaluate the effects of nicotine on brain reward sensitivity by looking at how they do on a video game," he added.

Kirshenbaum, 45, who lives with his family in Lincoln, landed the $365,865 federal grant to study how nicotine colors the lives of young people experiencing the world under its influence.

How nicotine gives us rose-colored glasses

Kirshenbaum project looks at attention, memory and emotions.

He wants to figure out how nicotine, which produces less pleasure in the brain than heroin or cocaine, manages to be so habit forming and difficult to kick.

Students under Kirshenbaum's guidance at St. Michael's pharmacological lab first studied the behavior of rats exposed to nicotine. The rats became more interested in activities dosed with nicotine and more apathetic when nicotine was removed from their systems, according to Kirshenbaum.

Vermont e-cigarette study involves video games
Kirshenbaum wants to gather evidence of altered performance results in young people.

To that end, he engaged students in St. Michael's computer science department to design a video game. Student study participants will play the game before and after being exposed to controlled doses of nicotine via an e-cigarette.

"And to put the Juul in context, the doses I give my young adults in the lab is a fraction of what people get in a Juul," Kirshenbaum said. Study participants are over 18 and must have some prior use of nicotine.

FDA to crack down on Juul and e-cigarettes

"It really concerns me that these cigarettes are out there," Kirshenbaum said speaking as a father of a middle school child.

He was pleased with the FDAs sting operations targeting e-cigarette sales to minors at convenience stores and approved of the agency's announcement in September that a crack down on e-cigarettes is eminent. 

Trying to get ahead of the FDA, San Francisco-based Juul Labs Inc., a company that makes popular e-cigarette devices that look like USB drives, announced that that the company will stop selling some of its flavored products at stores and will require additional age verification for online sales.  Enditem