Vaping has received extensive press coverage in recent months because of the small epidemic of severe lung disease in people who vape. More than 1,000 such cases have now been reported. While these reports have been widely disseminated, there has been much less attention to reports that indicate vaping may cause or worsen seizures.

As of August 2019, the Food and Drug Administration reported over 125 cases of seizures after the use of e-cigarettes. It is not clear that epileptic seizures occurred in each case, but there is good reason to believe that new onset seizures occurred immediately after vaping in some of the cases and that, in other cases, people with epilepsy had seizures after vaping.

We don’t know why vaping may be causing seizures in these reports. Vaping products purchased through unregulated sellers or on the street may contain unknown toxins, which may be a factor. For example, the CDC has recently confirmed that vitamin E acetate used in unregulated vaping products is probably responsible for lung damage reported in some users. Also, e-cigarettes flood the body with high doses of nicotine, and it is well known that nicotine toxicity can cause seizures. If an individual is predisposed to seizures, then a sudden nicotine surge may bring the seizure on, but further research needs to be done.

Thaddeus Walczak, MD, University of Minnesota Physicians epileptologist and head of the Epilepsy Division in the Neurology Department at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Cannabidiol oil (CBD) is a trendy product and can be utilized in many vaping devices. “Vaping CBD is a bad idea and should be avoided; the risks are just not worth the benefits,” Dr. Walczak continued. “While very solid evidence indicates that CBD helps with severe seizures seen in some uncommon epilepsy syndromes, it is not clear that CBD helps the seizure types that are seen in most people with epilepsy.” 

Most of the cases of lung damage following vaping have occurred in people vaping THC, another cannabis derivative. Pharmaceutical-grade CBD is available by registry in the state of Minnesota for people with common types of epilepsy and can be considered in the proper circumstances.

Until more is known, the CDC guidelines will remain salient. Vaping should be used only by people who are already vaping nicotine solutions to quit cigarette smoking. In this situation, vaping liquids should be purchased only from established manufacturers. Teens and pregnant women should never vape. 

If you want to quit smoking, talk to your doctor. There are safer methods to quit cigarettes than vaping. Given the possible link between vaping and seizures, the CDC’s guidelines make even more sense for people with epilepsy.