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Synthetic Marijuana

You may not have heard of “Spice” or “K2,” but these forms of synthetic marijuana are among the most recent drugs to make the scene among teens and young adults. This so-called “fake pot” is made by underground producers who spray shredded plant material with chemicals claiming to resemble THC—the active psychotropic ingredient in marijuana.

The products are often labeled as “incense” and “not for human consumption” to get around laws covering their use. They’re marketed to people who are looking for “herbal” drug alternatives. Often smoked, they can also be infused in hot water and taken as a tea. Synthetic marijuana is often sold in head shops, gas stations, liquor stores, and on the Internet as a legal “high” that mimics the effects of marijuana. In reality, it’s illegal to possess or sell these products. Using them can produce an effect that is far from benign. “Everyone must know that these synthetic marijuana chemicals are much more dangerous than the active ingredient in marijuana,” said Crittenton Hospital Medical Center’s Director of Pharmacy Marc Guzzardo. “They are much more toxic, more potent, more addictive and can result in adverse health effects in just minutes after smoking. You should not assume these products are safe or legal just because they are sold in stores.”

Mental and Physical Effects

Product names also include Blaze, Black Mamba, Earthquake, and Stinger, so it may come as little surprise that users of fake pot have been admitted to emergency rooms with seizures and rapid heart rates. Other common symptoms include paranoia, agitation, hallucinations, confusion, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, vomiting, and nausea. Frequent users who stop often experience symptoms of addiction and withdrawal. “The use of these chemicals has propelled patients into violent rages that often result in physical harm to others as well as irreversible brain damage that psychiatry has no real treatment options to provide. This is a serious social issue that the community needs to address as the consequences are many and severe,” said Don Lozen, Crittenton’s Director of Behavioral Health.

Chemicals used for synthetic marijuana are made in illegal labs with no oversight or standards. As a result, products’ strength can vary widely, causing users to react differently to different brands or batches. What’s more, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has raised concerns that some of these products may contain dangerous residues of heavy metals.

K2 may contain up to 10 dif­ferent chemically created cannabis compounds. One of those compounds is four to five times more powerful than the THC found in most marijuana.

Steps to Take

Parents concerned about their children’s possible use of these drugs should watch out for rolling papers and plant materials that resemble incense or potpourri. Look for the mental and physical symptoms of use, too. A mental health professional or drug counselor can provide an evaluation and treatment if necessary.

A major 2011 survey sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates that 11.4% of high school seniors across the U.S have used synthetic marijuana.

For more information, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse at www.nida.nih.gov or crittenton.com for emergency service and behavioral health information.

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