Synthetic Marijuana & Emergency Room Visits
Synthetic marijuana has been sending people to emergency rooms in greater numbers. According to reports, including those from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):
There were more than 28,500 ER visits linked to synthetic pot in 2011, compared to roughly 11,400 in 2010.
For teens aged 12 to 17, the number of such visits to the ER doubled, from about 3,800 in 2010 to nearly 7,600 in 2011.
For those aged 18 to 20, that number quadrupled, from about 2,000 in 2010 to over 8,000 in 2011.
Males accounted for 79% of all visits in 2011, while the number of visits by females tripled between 2010 and 2011.
A government survey showed that 11.3% of high school seniors used synthetic marijuana in 2012. To put it another way, one in every nine 12th graders tried synthetic pot in 2012 alone.
Ten Facts about Synthetic Marijuana
- The drug known as synthetic marijuana does not derive from the marijuana plant. The drug is created by spraying organic material with a mix of different chemicals. It is mainly consumed through smoking.
- Synthetic marijuana is most commonly created from a set of synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component in cannabis.
- This mix is sprayed onto dried plant material and chopped up herbs. Because synthetic cannabis is not regulated, the chemicals used to create it may vary. The majority of chemicals used in the creation of synthetic pot are dangerous and sometimes even deadly.
- The drug is sold under a number of names including: K2, Spice, No More Mr. Nice Guy, fake weed, Yucatan Fire, Bliss, Blaze, incense, potpourri, Skunk, and Moon Rocks.
- Synthetic cannabinoids have rather complex chemical names and are often designated by letters and numbers, such as JWH-018, JWH-250, RCS-4, and AM694.
- Often the drug is labeled “not for human consumption” in an attempt to avoid DEA & FDA oversight. This worked from 2009 (when synthetic pot showed up on DEA & FDA radar) to 2012.
- A 2012 law permanently placed 26 types of synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones in the Schedule 1 drug category. Synthetic cathinones are stimulants that approximate the psychoactive effects of an East African plant called khat. The synthetic varieties are however much more potent than khat and can be compared to methamphetamine.
- The DEA lists these chemicals as illegal substances, specifically: “Substances in this schedule have no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.” Drugs listed under Schedule 1 include heroin, LSD, mescaline, and ecstasy (MDMA).
- Synthetic marijuana is often advertised as “natural” but it is anything but. It is a designer drug which has killed a number of otherwise healthy people since it became commonly used. It is also addictive and can cause withdrawal symptoms when a regular user attempts to quit.
- The effects of synthetic cannabis are so potentially harmful that one of the chemists who originally formulated the compounds for research purposes said he couldn’t imagine why anyone would try it recreationally. He likened its use to playing Russian roulette.
Synthetic Marijuana and the Brain
The way cannabis and synthetic cannabis work in the brain is similar. They both bind to cannabinoid receptors (cell structures) located throughout the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Cannabinoid receptors process other chemicals beside THC and influence appetite and other bodily functions.
Synthetic pot is much more effective at binding to these receptors than other natural substances. The human body also does not know how to deactivate synthetic cannabis once it has started to affect and even damage the brain. Our system isn’t set up to metabolize this drug.
The inability to fully digest and get rid of the drug means it can become toxic rapidly and cause an overdose. Synthetic marijuana is not the same strength from one package to the next, so one package may seem fine to a user while the next can contain a deadly toxin.
Effects of Synthetic Pot
Synthetic cannabis has many effects upon the body and mind including:
- A marijuana-like euphoric state
- Agitation, anxiety
- Dangerously low blood potassium levels
- Rapid heart rate, palpitations, chest pain
- Increased blood pressure, reduced blood supply getting to the heart
- Heart attack
- Addictive behavior
- Violent behavior
- Acute psychosis
- Brain damage
- Kidney failure
The physical effects of synthetic cannabis are unpredictable. Symptoms can set in rapidly after use, but can also seem mild at first. They can last anywhere from one to eight hours, and can become serious or deadly during that time.
If you or someone you know has used synthetic marijuana, get yourself or the person to the hospital or call poison control right away.
Withdrawal Symptoms Associated with Synthetic Pot
There aren’t exact statistics on the number of people addicted to synthetic cannabis. However, there are withdrawal symptoms commonly experienced by individuals attempting to get off the drug. These include:
- Loss of appetite
- Extreme sweating
- Nausea, vomiting
- Troubled sleep
- Heart palpitations
- Psychotic episodes
- Suicidal ideation
It is a good idea to go to an inpatient rehabilitation facility to treat withdrawal from synthetic cannabis. Such a facility will be able to minimize the physical symptoms of withdrawal. Mental symptoms such as depression, paranoia and suicidal ideation can also be managed for the safety of the patient.
Signs that Someone May be Using Synthetic Pot
No matter the age of the user, synthetic pot is extremely dangerous. It can cause violent behavior, psychosis, stroke, kidney failure and death in people who are generally calm and healthy.
In addition to all the symptoms listed above, there are a number of signs that your child or someone in your home may be using synthetic cannabis, including but not limited to:
- Eyes glazed over, appears doped or drugged
- Small, colorful packets labeled incense, potpourri, or not for human consumption. Many such packages have cartoon characters, logos, and use psychedelic color combinations.
- The smell of cloves, clove cigarettes, or other burnt spices
- Rolling papers, pipes, blunts (hollowed out cigars), lighters, matches, and other smoking paraphernalia
- Secretive behavior, door to room locked, takes extra containers to school or work
- Lack of personal grooming or hygiene
- Defensive, agitated, belligerent or violent behavior
- Disinterest in school, job, goals or other activities formerly of interest
If you suspect your child or loved one is using synthetic cannabis or any drug, be sure to bring it up right away. Make sure they feel safe talking to you and do not be judgmental. Be however thoroughly interested in their well-being and understand that anyone secretly using drugs is prone to lies and deception. Do not stop until you get to the truth.
The Pattern of Synthetic Drug Manufacture
It’s not particularly surprising that the synthetic version of marijuana is proving to be far more potent, toxic and dangerous than its natural counterpart. This is not to downplay the inherent dangers of marijuana use, such as cognitive decline, lung damage, impaired immune system, sexual dysfunction, lethargy and apathy. But even in this early stage, the synthetic varieties are already sending more and more people to emergency rooms.
A wide variety of drugs are synthesized in labs in order to approximate the molecular structure and psychoactive effects of naturally occurring compounds.
Psycho-stimulants such as methylphenidate (Ritalin), amphetamine (Adderall), and methamphetamine bear chemical similarities to compounds within the coca plant from which cocaine is made. From opium and morphine we get heroin and the range of opioids including methadone, hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (OxyContin). Cathinones (“bath salts”) approximate the khat plant of Eastern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Even aspirin was born of the analgesic properties of willow bark. It should also be noted that hydroponics and even genetic engineering is now producing cannabis crops that are far more potent and risky than anything grown even 20 years ago.
The goal in producing synthetic drugs, illicit or otherwise, is often to make a more potent version or a more easily duplicated version. The makers also succeed in making a more addictive and toxic version. While the drug makers collect the cash, the people that pay are the users and their families, and millions of them pay with their very lives.
Besides, legislation, regulation and enforcement, the solution must include rehabilitation for those already drug-dependent, and youth drug education to quell the tide of abuse that wreaks havoc upon our younger generations.
Synthetic marijuana is extremely dangerous and can be addictive. If you or someone you know uses this drug, be sure to get help right away.