Synthetic marijuana is a drug that uses chemical compounds to create the same effects achieved when a person uses natural marijuana. Synthetic marijuana is often composed of herbs or leaves that have been sprayed with chemicals which generate the feeling of being “high.” Street names include: K2, Spice, fake weed, Yucatan Fire, Skunk and moon rocks.
Synthetic marijuana is often marketed as a “natural” alternative to real marijuana, but this is very far from the truth. Instead, it contains chemicals that are known to attach to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which causes the high associated with marijuana use. As a result, the drug is identified as a synthetic or designer drug because it is made in a laboratory.
Synthetic marijuana is sold in some convenience stores, gas stations and smoke shops, which are oftentimes referred to as “head shops.” People are also able to purchase the drug off of the Internet. Since synthetic marijuana’s first appearance in the drug scene, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has identified more than 700 different varieties of synthetic cannabanoids, with new ones being formulated every month. By incorporating different chemical combinations and non-banned substances into the components of synthetic marijuana, drug manufacturers can avoid arrest. This also makes it extremely difficult to know how many of these cannabanoids are being sold, and what effects they will have on users.
Spice is sold in small packets that are sometimes marketed as incense. The mixture is often compared to that of potpourri, with small, shredded bits of plant material. The drug is most commonly smoked, however, some people prefer to brew the leaves as a tea and consume them.
In September 2015, the District of Columbia’s police force seized nearly 20,000 packets of synthetic marijuana, which has a street value of $2.3 million. In April 2015, an estimated 160 people in the State of New York sought medical attention relating to the use of synthetic marijuana, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Due to the fact that synthetic marijuana is a relatively new drug on the market, its ability to cause addiction is still relatively unknown. Nonetheless, people have been known to experience withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug. A common misconception about Spice is that it is similar to marijuana, in that it cannot result in overdose or cause adverse health effects. However, the use of Spice has been linked to several cases of heart attacks, which proves it could be fatal to the user.
The use of synthetic marijuana is currently on the rise. The American Association of Poison Control Centers announced that the number of incoming calls regarding people experiencing an adverse reaction in 2015, exceeded the number of calls in 2013 and 2014. More recently, in July of 20161, 33 people in Brooklyn, NY were hospitalized due to a synthetic marijuana overdose.
When used, some effects of Spice are similar to those of natural marijuana which includes a happy mood, induced relaxation and altered perceptions. More severe and troubling symptoms associated with the use of synthetic marijuana include:
According to the NIDA, Spice has reportedly led to heart attacks in some people. The drug has also caused violent outbursts in users, requiring anesthesia and intubation to minimize a person’s risk of harming others. Additionally, many people use synthetic marijuana because it currently does not show up during drug testing.
Because manufacturers are constantly altering the chemical components of Spice, is it difficult to identify a definitive set of long-term outcomes from abusing the drug.
Synthetic cannabinoids can be very addictive. According to some sources, people who consume this drug regular for just a few weeks can become addicted. Cravings for the intense high can be just as strong as the cravings people have for heroin, crack, meth and prescription painkillers.
Treating synthetic marijuana addiction can be challenging; and since its compounds are consistently changing, it would be difficult to create a medicine that could reduce withdrawal symptoms associated with a person’s discontinuation of the drug’s use. Those who use Spice can receive help at a drug counseling center and interventions will likely include psychotherapy and possible group or family therapy.
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