Chronic Pain Health — 12 December 2012

The increasing use of synthetic marijuana by teens and young adults in the U.S. is driving a spike in drug-related emergency rooms visits, according to a new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It’s a situation that health officials say needs to be addressed before it does substantial damage to the health and well-being of today’s youth.

Researchers say 75 percent of the 11,406 emergency room visits related to synthetic cannabis in 2010 involved young people between the ages of 12 to 29. Males accounted for 78% of the admissions in that age group.

“This report confirms that synthetic drugs cause substantial damage to public health and safety in America,” said Gil Kerlikowske, Office of National Drug Control Policy Director.  “Make no mistake, the use of synthetic cannabinoids can cause serious, lasting damage, particularly in young people. Parents have a responsibility to learn what these drugs can do and to educate their families about the negative impact they cause.”

Synthetic cannabinoids are designed to affect the body in a manner similar to marijuana but are not derived from the marijuana plant. They are typically sprayed onto herbal products, and marketed by a variety of names, including “Spice” and “K2”.

The use of synthetic cannabinoids has been linked to a variety of symptoms including agitation, nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, tremor, seizures, hallucinations, paranoid behavior and non-responsiveness.

Sold as “legal” alternative to marijuana, they were readily available in most states until July of this year, when the federal government enacted a comprehensive ban. Because they contain different ingredients from each other, health officials say it is difficult to identify which physical effects are caused by synthetic cannabinoids.

“These products are relatively new, and related clinical and public health outcomes have not been fully examined,” the report noted. “Synthetic cannabinoids are not currently identified using routine screening tests, and the creation of new products of this type makes it difficult to detect these chemicals or regulate these products.”

Another cause for concern the study found was the easy access to synthetic marijuana. Despite now being illegal, it is still available online, making it difficult to regulate and possibly more accessible to kids than marijuana.

In fact, the average age for people involved in synthetic cannabinoid-related ER admissions was younger than for marijuana-related visits — 24 years old versus 30 years old. And synthetic cannabinoids were more likely to be the only drug implicated in the visit, whereas marijuana was more frequently combined with other drugs.

“Health care professionals should be alerted to the potential dangers of synthetic cannabinoids, and they should be aware that their patients may be using these substances,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde.  “Parents, teachers, coaches and other concerned adults can make a huge impact by talking to young people, especially older adolescents and young adults, about the potential risks associated with using synthetic marijuana.”

The report is based on data drawn from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Drug Abuse Warning Network, a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related morbidity and mortality.


About Author

Richard Lenti

Richard Lenti has worked as a news writer for the last 20 years at various television stations in Los Angeles. He is a Golden Mike winner and a graduate of California State University, Fresno. With roots in print journalism, Richard is excited to be “published” once again; having people read his work as opposed to having it read to them. As a freelance writer his work has appeared in the Easy Reader, L.A. Jazz Scene, Irrigation and Green Industry, and the KCAL 9 Online website.

(1) Reader Comment

  1. why the hell are they still selling this crap my bf has been addicted to this poison forvover a year a chronic user he cant work or function without it otherwise he acts like a maniac especially when hes coning off of it its scary he majorly abuses me verbally in front of my 20yr old and her friend its crazy He is 42 and i pray daily he will have to go to the energency room because of this crap cuz thats the only way he might stop otherwise he says ots cuz kids smoke too much of it and they r stupid. yet he smokes all day every day so idk ive written to all governmen t pplice etc n this crap is still being sold everywhere in sw florida PLEASE SOMEONE DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS