Is Synthetic Marijuana Dangerous?
Synthetic marijuana is a term that encompasses a wide range of products that are designed to mimic the effects of real marijuana. These products are very dangerous because the substances in them are always changing and it is impossible to know what is in each one, how much there is, if there are contaminants, and what the effects will be on an individual. Side effects of synthetic marijuana can range from nausea and vomiting to seizures, hallucinations, violence, addiction and even death. Synthetic marijuana is illegal, but the law is difficult to enforce as these products are always changing. Using synthetic marijuana is never safe and always risky.
Synthetic marijuana is actually a group of chemical substances that are supposed to mimic the effects of the natural cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, also known as marijuana, weed, or pot. These synthetic products have been cleverly marketed as safe or harmless products, or even as safer alternatives to real marijuana.
These compounds are not the same as marijuana, and they are not safer. In fact, synthetic weed and pot is particularly dangerous because the chemical makeup of each product is unknown. There are hundreds of different synthetic compounds used, with varying side effects, risks, and dangers. How any one product will affect an individual is unpredictable.
These products may also be contaminated with harmful substances. Synthetic marijuana is always risky and never safe to use.
What Is Synthetic Marijuana?
To understand why this drug is so dangerous it is important to understand exactly what it is. It is not the same thing as natural marijuana, also known as cannabis, but the manufacturers of these products want consumers to believe that it is the same. Natural marijuana contains multiple compounds called cannabinoids that have mind-altering and medicinal properties. THC is the main cannabinoid that causes the high and other effects people experience when using marijuana.
Synthetic marijuana products are made to mimic natural cannabinoids. They are produced in a lab and are then sprayed onto dried plant material to resemble marijuana, or dissolved in liquids to be used in vaporizers or e-cigarettes. They are sometimes called liquid incense, herbals, or other names that are misleading and make them seem safe.
Synthetic cannabinoids manufactured to make these products belong to a class of drugs called new psychoactive substances, or NPSs. They are unregulated, and for the consumer it is impossible to know what the substances are that they are purchasing. NPSs, including synthetic cannabinoids, have been around for a long time, but those who make and sell them are constantly changing the names, the chemical makeup, and the marketing strategies.
Some of the brand names of synthetic marijuana products are K2, Spice, Black Mamba, Joker, Kronic, Kush, Mr. Happy, AK-47, Scooby Snax, and No More Mr. Nice Guy, but these are always changing as their makers try to push what seem like new, safer products.
Synthetic Marijuana is Illegal
At one time it was easy to get these products. They were sold as incense, potpourri, and other harmless sounding products in plastic bottles and foil packages with bright labels, cartoon characters, and flashy colors. Almost anyone could buy them in novelty shops, drug paraphernalia and smoke shops, online, and even in gas stations.
In an effort to curb the sale and use of dangerous synthetic marijuana, lawmakers outlawed some of the specific chemicals. The manufacturers have since been getting around the law by constantly changing the chemical makeup of their products. More recently, both the federal government and several state governments have banned categories of synthetic compounds instead of specific chemicals. This has made it more difficult for manufacturers to sell the illegal products, but they still try to circumvent the laws with new packaging and by labeling them with “not for human consumption.”
Synthetic Marijuana Side Effects and Health Risks
Because it is impossible to know exactly what is in a synthetic marijuana product, knowing how it will affect a user is also unknown. There is also no way of knowing the level of synthetic cannabinoids in any particular product. Some products may cause a severe reaction, while others are milder. Different individuals may react in different ways to the drugs. Some of the possible side effects that have been seen with these products and that can be very serious include:
- A racing heartbeat
- Elevated blood pressure
- Severe anxiety and agitation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle spasms and tremors
- Hallucinations, paranoia, confusion, and other psychotic symptoms
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
These are just some of the possible effects that users may experience, but there are other health risks associated with synthetic pot. There can be long-term health consequences, as well as immediate and life-threatening issues: breathing difficulties, heart attack, stroke, muscle damage, kidney failure, and gastrointestinal problems.
There have also been reports of violent behavior in people using synthetic marijuana. This can cause the individual to harm himself, but it can also lead to harm caused to other people. Violent behavior can lead to arrests, legal problems, and incarceration.
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Synthetic Marijuana and Addiction
There is evidence that synthetic cannabinoids are addictive, because many people report experiencing withdrawal after stopping use. Some of the symptoms reported include headaches, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, sweating, and insomnia. People who have used the products a lot and for a long period of time have reported experiencing more severe withdrawal symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pains
- A rapid heartbeat
Contaminants in Synthetic Marijuana
Not only are the active ingredients in these products unpredictable and harmful, there is also a risk that the unregulated products are contaminated with even more harmful substances. The danger of this was illustrated in March and April of 2018, when several people in Illinois became seriously ill after using synthetic cannabinoids. Four people died as a result of using the contaminated product.
The people who were made ill or who died from these particular synthetic marijuana products were showing signs of excessive and dangerous bleeding: bleeding gums, blood in the urine, coughing up blood, and internal bleeding. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) investigated and issued a warning, stating that the products used by these people had been laced with rat poison, which is a blood thinner. It disrupts the ability of the blood to clot and, if not treated quickly with vitamin K, can be fatal.
The IDPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued warnings to the public. They say that anyone who has used any type of synthetic marijuana product and has experienced unusual bleeding should call 911 or get to an emergency room as soon as possible for treatment. A person affected should not drive, but should call for an ambulance or have someone else take them to the hospital.
Treating Synthetic Marijuana Use and Addiction
Unfortunately, unlike some other drugs, there is no antidote to treat someone who has a bad or severe reaction to synthetic marijuana. The case of the rat poison-contaminated product is unique, because the contaminant was identified and has a known treatment. In most cases, a person who is having a bad reaction is treated by medical supervision as the drug leaves the body. It is important to seek medical care, because doctors can provide fluids and medications to reduce symptoms and can use life support if necessary.
For someone who has been using synthetic marijuana for a long period of period of time and cannot stop, treatment is available. This can be treated as a substance use disorder as with other drug addictions, using behavioral therapies, medications, group support, family therapy and support, and holistic health care. Identifying and managing any underlying mental health conditions can also be useful. Treatment can be provided in a residential or an outpatient setting, depending on the needs of the individual.
People who make and sell synthetic marijuana try their best to make it seem as if it is safe, low-risk, and a good alternative to real marijuana. It is important to be aware of how false this is and how dangerous these products really are. Especially imperative is educating young people who are more likely to buy and use these products. The risks can range from just feeling sick to getting seriously addicted or even dying. Synthetic marijuana should never be considered safe or a safer alternative to other drugs.