They are sold online or out in the open, misleadingly labeled as other products – herbal incense, “all-natural” smoking blends, potpourri, etc. – but what they are in reality are synthetic cannabinoids – potent and dangerous designer drugs.
The most well-known designer synthetic cannabinoids are “Spice” and “K2”. In 2011, California outlawed the specific individual chemicals used to make these drugs. However, often happens with synthetic drugs, the illicit manufacturers changed the formula slightly to skirt the law.
Of special concern, these new formulations can become much more potent, or even toxic.
Dr. Marilyn Huestis, a scientist with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, says, “You might buy a package one week, go back to the same place and buy the exact same package the next week, and the ingredients may be completely different. Not only are the ingredients unknown, but so is the strength of the drug..”
In response, some cities in Southern California have closed this technical loophole by enacting a more comprehensive ban – making the manufacture, sale, distribution, or possession of ALL such synthetic drugs illegal.
In other words, lawmakers are beginning to focus on the effects of these similar substances, rather than on a narrow, specific formulation.
Synthetic Cannabinoids Use Among Teenagers
This is just in time, because recent research determined that high school seniors who use designer cannabinoids are much more likely to go on to abuse other, harder substances than their peers who “only” smoke marijuana.
- Heroin – 9% versus .1%
- Cocaine 6% versus 3.3%
- Opioids – 6% versus 5.7%
- LSD – 8% versus 3.4%
Roughly 1 in 20 high school seniors self-report using synthetic cannabinoids within the past month – and about half of those who do so used them on at least 3 daily occasions.
Among juvenile arrestees who have tried synthetic cannabinoids, 83% report that they used them as an alternative to marijuana. 43% of teens who admit to using K2, Spice, and other similar synthetics did so to avoid failing a drug test.
80% of 12th-graders who use synthetic cannabinoids also use marijuana.
Health Concerns Specific to Synthetic Cannabinoid Use
Because of a “lack of knowledge about the health risks” teens who use synthetic cannabinoids attribute greater risk to marijuana us and lesser risk to synthetic use.
In reality, a meta-analysis of 106 studies found that the use of drugs such as Spice and K2 can result in several negative health effects:
- Severe vomiting
- Abnormal heartbeat
- Heart attack
- Breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue
- Acute kidney injury
- Suicidal ideation
In 2013, there were 2668 poison center reports involving synthetic cannabinoids, but by 2015, the number of calls skyrocketed to 7779. This represents a threefold increase within a two-year period.
Specifically, the analysis mentions that synthetic cannabinoids have “significantly pronounced neurotoxicity and cardiotoxicity compared with marijuana.”
What Does All of This Mean?
This information just shows that despite facetious marketing and misled word-of-mouth, these “safe” and “legal” alternatives to marijuana are anything but. If you or someone you care about is using synthetic cannabinoids, they are literally putting their health at risk.
As Dr. Huestis says, “Because its makeup varies so widely, studying Spice is a challenge. Essentially, if you use it, you’re experimenting on yourself.”
For more than 35 years, Teensavers Treatment Centers has been the most-trusted youth-focused rehab program in Orange County. If you and your family are in crisis because of an addictive or behavioral disorder, Teensavers can help.
Teensavers – “Transforming Lives…”