What Is Synthetic Marijuana?
Synthetic marijuana is an herbal and chemical product which mimics the effects of Marijuana. It contains chemicals called Cannabinoids that are made to mimic the action of 9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the main psychoactive ingredient of Marijuana. They are powerful drugs that may cause severe side effects. In fact, New York State has just placed a statewide ban on the sales of synthetic marijuana.
Recently, it issued a warning of the dangers of the drug, which can be significantly more severe than natural marijuana. Many other states have begun to follow, most recently Michigan. Michigan Gov. Snyder signed a bill banning the use of and sale of Synthetic Marijuana. Several studies have found that synthetic marijuana is linked to serious side effects, which often require emergency room visits and medical intervention. Synthetic Marijuana has been shown to bring about “severe adverse reactions, including death and acute renal failure, and commonly cause: tachycardia (increased heart rate); paranoid behavior, agitation and irritability; nausea and vomiting; confusion; drowsiness; headache; hypertension; electrolyte abnormalities; seizures; and syncope (loss of consciousness).”
Synthetic Marijuana also goes by the names K2, Spice, Aroma, Earth Impact, Mr. Smiley, Mr. Nice Guy, Zohai, Eclipse, Black Mamba, Red X Dawn, Blaze, and Dream, among others. The products often carry the futile “not for human consumption” label. The synthetic form of Cannabis is often a mix of innocent-enough botanical products, like bay bean, blue lotus, rose, and vanilla, to which a toxic chemical like JWH-018 is added. The JWH-018 compound was first developed by the scientist John W. Huffman, who synthesized versions of TCH to study its effects in the lab.
Once it was discovered in Europe that the drug didn’t show up on most clinical tests, its popularity took off. Now, many countries in Europe ban the drug, but the U.S. has been slow to take action. It was only a month ago that the first five synthetic Cannabinoids became Schedule controlled substances. Synthetic Marijuana is more dangerous than the natural drug because the active ingredient binds more strongly to Cannabis receptors in the brain (CB1). For young people using it, the drug poses especially serious risks.
This is because the adolescent brain is still developing, and continues to do so through the teen years, and likely beyond. Infusing a toxic chemical into the delicate developing network can lead to major disruptions in the ways in which nerve cells form patterns and connections. As several new case reports point out, more and more teens and young adults who use these substances are turning up in hospitals with signs of intoxication.
In the latest edition of the journal Pediatrics, physicians from Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. presented three case studies of teenagers who came to the emergency room after they each ingested fake Marijuana. Each teen suffered from a variety of serious adverse effects after they ingested these marijuana-mimicking substances. The authors described symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, excessive sweating and rigidity.
Two of them also became extremely agitated. All three survived and were eventually released from the hospital. "We became concerned about it after seeing these teenagers, and when we researched the literature, we realized there is very little out there about the effects of these compounds," said Dr. Joanna Cohen, lead author and associate professor of pediatric emergency medicine at Children's National Medical Center.
"We wanted to publish these case reports mostly because we wanted to share the information we had gathered to let the medical community know what we were seeing." Concerns Over Long-Term Effects According to data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there were 6,959 calls related to adverse effects associated with synthetic marijuana compounds in 2011, nearly 2.4 times the amount of calls in 2010.
Users of synthetic Cannabinoids may experience euphoria and other psychoactive effects similar to those of Marijuana, but there are also additional signs such as the increased heart rate, excessive sweating and agitation experienced by the teenagers. While the teens ultimately recovered, Cohen expressed concern over the potential long-term effects of these substances. "It's important for providers and parents to recognize the signs of drug use and to try and prevent repeat use," she said. "The effects on developing brains can be severe."