A little over a year ago, more than 160 people were hospitalized in New York over a two-week period after ingesting synthetic cannabinoids.
Last fall, 13 people got sick after using these drugs in San Diego, and just over a month ago, 15 people were hospitalized in Los Angeles after using synthetic marijuana, according to the Los Angeles Police Department, as reported by The Washington Post.
The harm caused by use of synthetic marijuana, often touted as a legal and therefore safe drug, cannot be understated. In the first three months of this year alone, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reports that they had calls about 862 exposures to synthetic marijuana. Last year, they received 7,794 calls about exposure to synthetic cannabinoids, up from 3,682 calls in 2014 and 2,668 calls in 2013.
If someone you care about is abusing these substances, it is important to help them understand that they are not safe and that, if they are struggling with stopping use of synthetic drugs and other substances, treatment can help them turn things around.
What Is Synthetic Marijuana?
Synthetic marijuana, also known as Spice or K2, is a synthetic substance designed to mimic the effects of marijuana but in reality, it is about 10 times more potent than the strongest marijuana – and far different. It can create a hallucinogenic effect in users as well as dangerous medical issues, including:
- Muscle spasms
- Erratic behavior
- Psychotic episodes
- Suicidal behavior
The fact is that synthetic cannabinoids are an ever-changing cocktail of chemicals that can create a range of health problems in the user depending upon other drugs being used at the same time, the person’s mental health status, dosage, and other factors. It is impossible to know whether or not the dose in hand will be overwhelming or “safe” to use without medical consequences. It is, in short, a gamble with every single use.
Gambling: The Game of Synthetic Drug Use
Synthetic drugs are made up of a range of different chemicals, the specifics of which are unknown. Underground chemists create the drugs specifically with the goal of evading current laws that ban certain chemicals. In order to make a drug that is still technically legal and continues to provide a high or other mind-altering effect, the chemist creates a substance that is very close to a previous incarnation without exactly recreating it.
This causes two major problems. First, even regular use of the drug does not help the user to determine what dose is “enough” to get high versus too much and therefore a dangerous amount. Every batch has a different chemical makeup; thus, every batch will translate into a different dose that is “effective” without being overwhelming to the system. Even long-time users or those who often use drugs and alcohol of all kinds can inadvertently overdose.
The second issue is that, because no two batches are alike, it is impossible to study and test the drug and determine the long-term effects, or even to be able to map out a pattern of effects that can signify to medical personnel that a patient admitted for a medical emergency is under the influence of synthetic cannabinoids. This means that emergency room doctors are at a loss to be able to help a patient admitted due to use of the drugs quickly or effectively. There is almost no information about important factors, such as how long the drug will stay in the system, what effects it will trigger initially or later on, or how to get halt the drugs’ action in the brain and body.
Every use of this substance, no matter what the circumstances are, is a blind gamble.
Not Worth the Risk
If someone you care about believes that synthetic cannabinoids are safe because they are technically legal, or that they are natural and pure because they share a name with a plant, the time is now to connect your loved one with resources that will illuminate the facts.
Essentially, use of any street drug, including synthetic cannabinoids, is not a risk worth taking. There are other ways of feeling good, fighting boredom, connecting with friends, and managing mental health issues like depression and anxiety that will improve both physical and mental health.
If reason is not enough, and the person is struggling to manage use of drugs and alcohol, treatment can help. From personal therapy sessions with a recovery focus to 12-Step groups that create a support network in sobriety to intensive therapeutic treatment and detox, there are a number of options.
Does someone you care about need treatment for substance use and abuse?