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I know the dangers of vaping marijuana mean I should stop, but I can't go back to smoking it

I started vaping because it eliminated certain risks for me as a Black man. Now it seems I took on others I hadn't bargained for.
Illustration of man vaping weed in his own casket.
I realize I may be that person you end up cursing out out as you lean into my casket at my way-too-soon funeral.Jackson Gibbs / for NBC News

I had long denied myself something I was pretty sure I'd like — marijuana — out of fear. Part of it was being the child of an addict; not to sound like Joe Biden of yore, but I worried that, if I got into one thing too much, I might end up chasing another high. That turned out to be a stupid concern: There is no clinical evidence that marijuana is a gateway drug. Plus, if I could avoid alcoholism — and alcohol is demonstrably a gateway drug — I could clearly control my usage of the demon weed.

Plus, I have always been aware that I have to be careful about smoking weed, given that the mere scent of weed in my vicinity might elicit a negative response from a member of the police department. It does not matter in what town or city; I’m Black. I don’t want to risk being pulled over or shot because I wanted to enjoy a sativa party favor and didn’t Febreze enough because it felt rude to ask the host if he had some.

But as someone who’s struggled with anxiety and depression and has been on antidepressants, weed calms me down in ways that other medicines don't, without the side effects that make me feel like less than my best self.

There was just one problem: I can’t really roll a blunt or joint particularly well. The first time I got high, my friend’s mom felt so bad for me that she stepped in and did it for me. What a sad sight I was. (I’d still let her roll for me.)

So between my butterfingers and my fear of smelling like weed, I turned to vaping. Leave it to me to finally find a vice that I enjoy and assume to be safe, only to end up becoming the subject of a public health crisis.

As you might have heard, it appears that it may not be the smartest move to use an e-cigarette, let alone to use it as one's cannabis intake implement of choice. Last December, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine published the first study on the long-term health effects of electronic cigarettes. Their study included 32,000 adults in the U.S., none of whom had signs of lung disease when the study started in 2013. Three years later, though, those who used e-cigarettes were 30 percent more likely to have developed a chronic lung disease, including asthma, bronchitis and emphysema, than to non-users.

However, this study was centered on people who use nicotine products and, no shade to anyone that’s into that, I would never smoke the devil’s nicotine. So when the potential health impacts of vaping marijuana were first mentioned to me directly by a friend, I actually had my vape pen in my hand at the time, inhaling the labor of some of the state of California’s finest workers. I took another hit before responding with: I’m assuming they’re talking about the people smoking Kools and Newports, not me.

But it turned out that, a mere two months before the AJPM study was revealed, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that most of the people who had died from vaping-related injuries had used products containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — the stuff that I had been using, which was supposed to be safe!

Based on data available at the time, the Washington Post said that officials noted that, of those that had fallen ill amid the rampant outbreak of vaping-related lung disease, about 85 percent reported using THC-containing products, compared to about 10 percent who reported exclusively vaping nicotine-containing products. Most of those patients said they purchased their THC vape products on the black market, where it is likely that purveyors were cutting THC-containing vape products with agents like vitamin E oil or, well, formaldehyde to boost profits.

But, regardless of the outbreak of the deadly lung disease being widely attributed to black market products, legal vaping products — one of the fastest-growing segments of the legal marijuana industry — nevertheless took a hit. It hasn’t helped at least one death can be attributed to a THC cartridge purchased at a legal shop in Oregon.

This should, of course, be the part of the essay where I declare that, upon realizing that vaping marijuana could be bad for me, I — a well-informed person, and someone that has seen so many people die because they refused to cut bad habits — immediately stopped vaping.

I’m sorry to disappoint, but I remain a loyal customer, and may subsequently be that person you end up cursing out out as you lean into my casket at my way-too-soon funeral.

I realize that none of my excuses as to why I won't stop will prevent members of the medical community — including those I am related to — from telling me that nothing about vaping is enough to risk my lungs catching on fire. But I’m afraid it’s time for them to let go.

Obviously, I’m going to continue smoking weed. I have private student loan debt, childhood trauma to finish sorting through in therapy and that former game show host remains president. Have your pinot noir, I’ll have this... and some of your wine, if you don’t mind sharing.