What’s the Story with Synthetic Marijuana Warnings?

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Synthetic marijuana varieties, or synthetic cannabinoids, are once more making headlines after San Antonio health and fire officials warn against a particularly strong product on the streets. The drug, made from plant matter laced with man-made cannabinoids, is known as Spice and k2. Despite warnings like these being released nationally and on local levels yearly, use of the potent drug continues to rise. With marijuana legalized for either medical or recreational use in 28 states, the stigma surrounding the use of the drug is easing. Unfortunately, this drug-positive reputation has been inherited by its synthetic cousin. Although extremely dissimilar in its actual chemical makeup to marijuana, these drugs have been inextricably connected.

Who is using synthetic marijuana?

Lots of people and for a variety of reasons. The ease of access for synthetic marijuana is just one reason law enforcement has difficulty keeping the drug from teens, homeless populations, and curious drug users. Anyone can purchase this drug of questionable legality from the corner store, smoke shop, online, gas stations or on the streets. Due to its name, “synthetic marijuana,” new users are falsely led to believe it is a safe, non-addictive drug. However, the side effects are far from similar.

What happens when synthetic marijuana is ingested?

People who smoke synthetic cannabinoids are known to suffer from nausea, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, hallucinations, delirium, psychosis, agitation and seizures. These are just some of the acute effects of this drug. In some cases, kidney failure and death have been reported. In 2014, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration issued their report on cannabinoids, stating there were approximately 28,531 emergency room visits in 2011 due to the drug. For those who continue to use the drug, the long-term effects includes: decreased appetite, heart attacks, strokes, kidney damage, weight loss, and paranoia. Hallucinations have been observed to last up to two weeks.

Why are synthetic cannabinoids so potent compared to natural pot?

A leading reason why warnings are continually being issued for synthetic marijuana is due to its variations in potency. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, there are over 400 varieties of synthetic marijuana. It is produced, most often, in India, the Middle East, and China. The cannabinoid compounds are sprayed onto the plant material in non-standard ways such as in cement mixers or in troughs. Due to the unregulated manufacturing process, the chemical may not be distributed properly in the plant matter. This creates “hot spots,” or areas of concentrated chemicals. Unlike natural marijuana, with its fairly consistent effects, synthetic marijuana can have drastic and sometimes dangerous effects on users. In addition to how it’s made, potency also lies in how the brain responds to the cannabinoid. Like THC in marijuana, synthetic marijuana triggers a biological response in the brain’s cannabinoid receptors. However, the key difference is that the synthetic version is a full agonist, unlike THC. The result is a stronger effect in the body’s peripheral and central nervous systems. Law enforcement officials and federal drug agencies struggle to regulate and track these kinds of drugs. With the chemical composition ever-changing, attempting to get the drug banned in the U.S. has proven to be nearly impossible. Manufacturers regularly attempt to circumvent laws by both changing the formula and labeling it as non-ingestible products such as “potpourri.”

Is Synthetic Pot addictive?

Regular users of the drug have been known to suffer from withdrawal symptoms. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this includes symptoms such as: headaches, depression, anxiety and irritability. Like with many addictive substances, the brain becomes dependent on the drug. Although this is a new class of drugs still being explored and studied by mental health professionals and scientists alike, K2 or synthetic marijuana addiction treatment is available. Warnings exist for a reason, and it is reasonable to be cautious about any drug despite its country of manufacture or legal status. When in doubt about a drug’s safety, talk to a healthcare professional or learn about new and trending drugs at the National Institute of Drug Abuse website.