Unlike its natural counterpart, synthetic marijuana (commonly known as “K2” or “spice”) does not come from the earth. Instead, it’s a mix of more than 100 manmade chemicals sprayed onto shredded plant material that resembles cannabis sativa. While these chemicals activate the same receptors in the brain that marijuana does, the effect can be hundreds of times more intense.
Abuse of Synthetic Marijuana
Since the 1990s, versions of this drug have been sold in gas stations and convenience stores legally. In 2012, however, after a dramatic increase in emergency room visits after ingestion of the drug, the government made it illegal to sell and possess synthetic marijuana.
In recent years, sale and use of synthetic marijuana have spiked. An estimated 11.3 percent of high school seniors have tried the drug (second only to marijuana at 36.4 percent). Users typically smoke the drug, sometimes mixing it with natural cannabis sativa.
Over a three day period in April 2015, 22 people were hospitalized after using spice in Syracuse, New York, often considered the spice capital of the United States. And the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported that not only did use of the drug in the first half of 2015 surpass all of 2014, but 15 people died from overdosing on synthetic marijuana.
One reason for the drug’s popularity is that it doesn’t show up on standard drug screenings, meaning that those on parole and seeking employment can use it without worry of penalty. Another is its dirt cheap price–available for just a dollar or two on the street, making it a scourge on poverty-stricken communities.
Dangers of Synthetic Marijuana
Not only does the synthetic form amplify the effects of the natural form of this drug, but it also carries its own specific dangers. Users may experience:
- profound confusion
- violent behavior
- high blood pressure
They may even experience health issues as serious as increased heart rate and kidney failure. One of the most dangerous things about the drug is that chemists change the formula as quickly as legislators can outlaw specific chemicals. This makes the effects of the drug unpredictable even for those who have used it before.
Treatment for Synthetic Marijuana Addiction
While experts don’t yet know much about the long-term effects of synthetic marijuana on the body and brain, they do know that regular use of the drug can lead to addiction and withdrawal symptoms.
As with any abused substance, intensive inpatient treatment is the best way to achieve sobriety and retain long-term health quality of life. If you or a loved one are abusing synthetic marijuana, talk with your doctor. He or she can help recommend a treatment plan that’s right for you.