Is Vape A Drug?

By Dr. Annie Macpherson
Updated: 2019-09-15


E-cigarettes are a relatively new technology, designed to be a ‘cleaner’ way to inhale nicotine, to help people quit smoking tobacco. Users inhale vaporised e-liquid, which contains nicotine, but you can also vape nicotine-free. When you vape, you are introducing chemicals into your lungs, bloodstream, and wider body. Does this mean that vaping is a type of cigarettes drugs?

In this article,

  1. we’ll discuss the definition of drugs, and whether nicotine and vaping are considered as types of drug.

What is a Drug?

A lot of pharmaceutical drugs are administered as tablets.

Drugs come in all different shapes and sizes.

The word ‘drug’ is quite a broad term, that can have several meanings. A good definition of a drug is any substance that, when taken into the body in a certain way, has temporary physiological or psychological effects. This means, a drug is anything you put in your body that produces an effect on your body or brain.

Drugs can be harmful or helpful, highly addictive or not addictive at all, and man-made or naturally derived. The common aspect is that they have an effect on you.

Some substances that are commonly recognised as drugs include:

Is Nicotine a Drug?

Because of its effects on your brain, nicotine is considered to be a highly addictive drug. Similar to other abused drugs like cocaine and amphetamines (speed), nicotine activates reward pathways in your brain and acts as a mild stimulant, making you crave more when it’s effects wear off. If you are vaping with nicotine in your e-juice, consider your e-juice as containing the drug nicotine, just like tobacco. Nicotine will have permanent and negative effects on the brain development of children and teenagers[1].

What About Vaping Nicotine-Free?

We know that if you are vaping with nicotine, you are vaping a drug. But is vaping nicotine-free considered as a drug? Let’s take a look at the components of e-juice and e-cigarette vapor to answer this question:

Propylene Glycol and Vegetable Glycerin

These are what make up the base of your e-liquid/vapor. Propylene glycol is commonly used as a base for medications, but it is considered an inactive ingredient. Vegetable glycerin has some medical uses as a laxative, weight loss agent and moisturiser, but experts believe none of these effects occur when it is inhaled. The verdict: Not drugs.

E-juice Flavorings

Food grade flavorings are added to your e-juice to provide the flavor. Although experts do not know their true effects long-term when inhaled, we know these substances have no effect when eaten, and likely will not affect you when inhaled either.

The verdict: Not drugs.


Although you could say drinking water is highly addictive, this is because we need water to support our body in essential survival processes, so water is considered an essential input.

The verdict: Not a drug.


So is vape a kind of drug?

If you vape nicotine-free, vaping is not currently considered as a drug. Vaping simply does not have enough psychological or physiological effects on your body to be considered as a type of drug. If you are vaping with nicotine, you can consider vaping as a ‘drug delivery device’ that administers you nicotine. Much like other nicotine replacement therapies (like patches and gum), the device itself is not a drug, unless there is nicotine in it. In fact, research is ongoing to investigate if e-cigarettes can provide a new, safer way to deliver therapeutic drugs to the lungs [2].



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Dr. Annie Macpherson
Dr. Annie Macpherson

Annie has a PhD in Genome Stability from the University of Sussex. She has first-hand experience in cancer and human disease research. This allows her to provide us with new and unbiased insights into the ongoing research of the public and health effects of vaping. She loves an adventure, and has travelled through South East Asia and Australia working for Vaping Insider.