The Dangerous Effects Of Synthetic Marijuana

“My kid said it was fine, it wasn’t weed, it was more like smoking tobacco. I wish I would’ve asked way more questions.”

“All I knew was it wasn’t weed, and they bought it at a gas station. Which, hey, that might sound stupid now, but at the time it made sense to me. I buy donuts there so why would they sell something dangerous?”

“It wasn’t illegal, that’s all I knew. But, actually, I still don’t really know if it’s illegal or not. But yeah, we smoked it and I felt horrible. Like, the worst I’ve ever felt.”

It might feel hard (or even impossible) to talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol. That’s nothing new. Kids, and especially teenagers, can make it difficult to break past the barriers of growing up—all those hormones, all those emotions!

There are a lot of dangerous side effects when someone uses synthetic marijuana, so it’s important to have a serious talk with your kids about the drug. Above, those are all quotes about synthetic marijuana, sometimes referred to as synthetic cannabinoids, and also referred to with slang terms like “K2” and “spice”.

Before we get into the details of it all, here are a couple of important facts to know about synthetic marijuana. Not only has it been reported in scientific studies that adolescents are the most typical group of people who use synthetic marijuana, but 40% of them are male and/or African American.

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It is a drug that checks off a lot of boxes to make it more appealing to younger people. It’s marketed dishonestly, put in bright packaging with catchy titles, and may be referred to as “legal” in some instances. These are some of the reasons why talking to your kids about the dangers of the drug is so important.

So what is synthetic marijuana? The short answer is that it is artificially produced in a laboratory and has mostly not been the subject of much scientific research, although there are some studies.

One thing that is known, however, is that smoking or consuming synthetic marijuana is extremely dangerous due to how unpredictable it is. The ingredients are sometimes not listed, plus they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or any governing organization.

To understand why synthetic marijuana is so dangerous we need to know some basic facts about marijuana itself, including why it produces a feeling of euphoria in people. After that, let’s look at all of the information regarding synthetic marijuana.

How Does Real Marijuana Work?

Cannabis is the scientific term for the plant family containing marijuana and hemp. Both marijuana and hemp contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is responsible for producing euphoria when someone consumes a certain amount of THC.

Marijuana can potentially have up to 30% THC content, whereas hemp contains such a small amount that smoking or consuming it produces no psychoactive effect or euphoria. By law, hemp products can contain no more than .3% THC.

THC, according to the National Institutes of Health, has a similar structure and effects as a naturally-occurring brain chemical called anandamide. It’s a chemical that affects specific portions of the brain, producing results that “influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, movement, coordination, and sensory and time perception.”

When someone ingests THC it interrupts the brain’s process of using anandamide. This means someone experiences different sensations regarding pleasure, memorization, and may have significantly altered movement and hand-eye coordination.

What Is A Cannabinoid?

A cannabinoid is any chemical that interacts with and affects the cannabinoid receptors in the human nervous system. The Alcohol and Drug Foundation of Australia says the cannabis plant family produces around 80 to 100 different cannabinoids.

The two most well-known cannabinoids are THC and cannabidiol (CBD). The American legal system is currently undergoing a lot of changes regarding the legalization of marijuana. Most states already have some sort of law allowing the sale of CBD, and it has been federally legal since 2018.

THC is the reason why naturally-occurring marijuana produces euphoric or “high” feelings. And although CBD is also present in marijuana, most of the products listing CBD as an ingredient are using the substance after it has been harvested from the hemp plant.

Although CBD is said to have many health benefits, as of now there is not a lot of solid evidence to support many of those claims. The Harvard Medical School does say, however, that CBD has been proven to help with two forms of childhood epilepsy called Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS).

The Truth About Synthetic Cannabinoids

As already mentioned, synthetic cannabinoids don’t occur naturally. Someone has to manufacture them, and because there is no regulatory body overseeing that process, it is almost impossible to know what is in synthetic marijuana.

There are really two reasons why the drug landed in the national spotlight: availability and its role in lifelong bodily harm or death. Once the dangers of synthetic marijuana became obvious and widespread, Chuck Grassley, the United States Senator for Iowa introduced a bill to Congress to ban synthetic marijuana.

“People are buying this drug so easily at the local mall or online that they think it’s safe,” Grassley states on his website. He goes on to specify some of the reasons why “spice” and “K2” are incredibly dangerous.

“The marketing is deceptive. The product is readily available. This all makes the drug seem harmless. It’s anything but harmless,” he said. And indeed, synthetic “weed” was involved in the death of a young man named David Rozga.

Grassley introduced the David Mitchell Rozga Act, which passed. It banned the sale of the chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana. Authorities have struggled to enforce this, however, as the ingredients are rarely listed on the packaging, and United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) indicates that in most cases, the drug is produced in Asia and shipped to the U.S.

Another aspect that makes the sale of the drug difficult to manage is the packaging being labeled with “not for human consumption,” and marketed as incense or potpourri. The U.S. National Library of Medicine released a study showing the drug has also been marketed as “nail polish remover, deodorizers.”

What Exactly Is In Synthetic Marijuana?

Synthetic cannabinoids were manufactured in the 1980s for research purposes. One study says they arrived in the United States in 2008 and, when being sold and marketed as producing a “legal high,” began being misused regularly. Drastic physical side effects were often experienced by users.

To understand the specifics of synthetic marijuana’s chemical makeup you would maybe need a degree in chemistry. As mentioned above, our brains have natural cannabinoid receptors. Think of receptors almost like locked doors that can only open with very specific keys. Cannabinoids can activate—or “open”—the cannabinoid receptors in our brains.

Synthetic cannabinoids don’t occur naturally but mimic the effects of some naturally-occurring cannabinoids. They also interact with our brains in unknown and unexpected ways as well. Some of the known synthetic cannabinoids are listed in certain scientific studies, but there are also unknown ingredients as well.

How Does Someone Take Synthetic Marijuana?

Most commonly, someone would smoke synthetic marijuana by rolling it into a cigarette-like object or putting it into a pipe of some sort. Synthetic marijuana usually looks vaguely like naturally occurring marijuana, but can also resemble powder, potpourri, and incense.

Along with smoking in a pipe or cigarette, it’s also possible for synthetic marijuana to be sold as a liquid which will be vaporized in special equipment, or even smoked in electronic cigarettes. It is sometimes marketed as “liquid incense” to indicate it is to be vaporized.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health lists synthetic cannabinoids as part of the new psychoactive substances (NPS) group. All drugs listed as an NPS have absolutely no oversight or regulations. They are drugs/substances intended to create the same outcomes as illegal drugs and are often sold in packages bearing labels such as “legal weed” or “fake weed.”

The Drastic Effects Of Taking Synthetic Marijuana

Although naturally-occurring marijuana has been in the news a lot the last few years as states choose to legalize it in certain capacities, it can still lead to dependence and addiction. If someone is struggling and needs treatment for marijuana abuse, they will most likely be able to find help.

Synthetic marijuana is much, much more dangerous. It has been shown to produce unpredictable and drastic side effects—even death. The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) lists the following possible side effects from ingesting synthetic marijuana:

  • Agitation and irritability
  • Confusion and concentration problems
  • Hallucinations, delusions, psychosis, suicidal thoughts, and violent behavior
  • Seizures
  • Sleepiness and dizziness

The CDC also lists these more severe side effects of synthetic marijuana:

  • Breathing problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Heart attack, fast heart rate, high blood pressure, and stroke
  • Kidney failure
  • Muscle damage

In a study called Synthetic Cannabinoid-Related Illnesses and Deaths the author’s specify one of the reasons synthetic marijuana can be so incredibly dangerous: “Unlike opioid drugs such as heroin and morphine,” they say, “[synthetic cannabinoids] have no available antidote, and treatment of the often unpredictable and severe adverse health effects is largely supportive.”

This means if someone has ingested synthetic marijuana and is having serious side effects there is no known medication that can reverse the effects. Doctors would be stuck trying to manage the side effects, rather than ending them.

Also, according to that same study, there is no known laboratory test to determine if someone has ingested synthetic marijuana, making it even harder to treat someone for its negative effects.

The lack of a viable test is also another reason why the drug became popular. Those who are worried about failing a test can continue to ingest the drug and have no official test result showing they have it in their system. That does not mean, however, it won’t be obvious they have taken the drug.

Can Someone Be Addicted To Synthetic Marijuana?

The very short answer is yes, it is possible for someone to be addicted to synthetic marijuana. NIDA at the National Institutes of Health reports addiction as a possibility. It even lists the withdrawal symptoms someone may experience, such as

  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability

The daily use of synthetic marijuana carries very significant dangers with it. Not only are the ingredients unknown, but they can vary dramatically from one pack to another, even if they are purchased from the same manufacturer.

Although addiction is a distinct possibility when using drugs that affect your brain, there are far worse outcomes, as you read above. The chemicals inside synthetic marijuana have been known to react in the brain much more strongly than even marijuana with a large amount of THC.

Synthetic marijuana can lead to death, even for someone who has only ingested the drug once.

The Sad Price Of Using K2

The young man mentioned above, David Rozga, was one of the unfortunate people who experienced the drastic side effects of synthetic marijuana. He bought some “K2” (another name for synthetic marijuana) from his local shopping mall.

As you read above, the drug can produce anger, psychosis, and suicidal thoughts. After Rozga ingested the synthetic marijuana he took his own life. This is one example of the unfortunate side effects that can come with the drug. That was in 2010, though, so what has happened between then and now?

In 2018, Christopher Moraff wrote a story for the Daily Beast detailing a more recent rise in the drug’s prevalence. Moraff spoke with a forensic narcotics expert named David Leff who said, “We are now in our eighth generation of synthetic cannabinoids, and they just keep getting more powerful and unpredictable.”

Leff went on to say those who are consuming synthetic marijuana “…have no idea what [they’re] actually consuming. These are substances that have never been tested on humans.” The story goes on to specify something pretty alarming. According to authorities, there are now more than “700 possible variations of synthetic cannabinoids.”

All of this information means synthetic marijuana is most likely going to continue being a problem for quite some time. Although we are starting to know more and more about what some forms of it contain, the people who manufacture it are able to constantly shift ingredients, producing even more dangerous and unpredictable effects.

Are You In Search Of Help?

Struggling with addiction can sometimes feel like you are alone, incapable of changing, and a failure. You are not alone, you can change, and you are not a failure. Taking the very first step toward recovery may seem impossible, but trust us, it is not.

Vertava Health Mississippi knows you have a strength inside you, one that can power your way into and through recovery. We have built our treatment program to utilize that strength. Your resilience and dedication are why we know, once you talk to us and get yourself or someone you love into treatment, long-term recovery is an achievable goal.

Do not be afraid to reach out today, tomorrow, or any time. There is literally always someone at Vertava Health MS who can talk to you. Whether you have a question or are ready to begin treatment as soon as possible, give us a call at 844-551-7335. We are ready to help you use your strength to change your life.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What Does Synthetic Marijuana Look Like?

Synthetic marijuana can look like naturally-occurring marijuana, but it can also look like a powder, a liquid, or sometimes like any broken-up plant leaf. It’s manufactured to mimic how marijuana interacts with and affects your brain/body, but there is not always a similarity between how it and naturally-occurring marijuana looks.

What Is Synthetic Marijuana Made Of?

Synthetic marijuana is normally some kind of plant matter (leaves, roots, etc.) that are broken up into tiny pieces. It can also be made into a liquid or powder, however. Synthetic marijuana is a combination of chemicals that are produced in a laboratory to recreate how naturally-occurring cannabinoids, like the THC found in natural marijuana, interact with the cannabinoid receptors in our brains. Because there is no regulation for the chemicals that are used (normally sprayed onto the plant matter) there is no way for someone to know exactly what they are ingesting.

What Does Synthetic Marijuana Smell Like?

Because synthetic marijuana has no standard ingredients, its actual chemical properties and contents can change from one package to another. This also means there is no standard or recognizable smell. You could have a package containing something almost completely different from another, even one bought in the exact same location.