Understanding risks of synthetic marijuana

According to ABC News, quoting articles from Livescience, synthetic cannabinoids were first found in the U.S. by authorities in 2008, and since 2010 the number of overdoses from these compounds has increased each year.

Synthetic cannabinoids are sometimes referred to as K2 or spice or many other names and are not actually substitutes for marijuana although their names might suggest it, but are in fact a larger class of chemicals which are related to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

One reason that overdoses are on the rise is that spice (synthetic marijuana) is inexpensive to import. Dr. Nelson, a toxicologist at New York University Langone Medical Center, stated that the chemicals known as K2 or spice are often made in laboratories in China, and then sprayed on plant products and sold as “synthetic marijuana” or sold under the guise of legal products such as incense.

Because the chemistry is inconsistent, users of these products may react in various, unique ways, but generally they will either become agitated or sedated. A report released by the Center for Disease Control stated that in 66 percent of the overdoses cases, people either experienced agitation, toxic delirium or coma.

One of the challenges of determining if an individual has died from synthetic cannabinoid overdose is that the chemicals involved are constantly changing. It is more difficult to determine cause of death from unknown substances than it is to test for known compounds.

Dr. Nelson states that the group of drugs known as synthetic marijuana are likely as lethal as cocaine or amphetamines and the mechanism that lead to death appear to be the same as with all stimulants. The user responds to these drugs with agitation, high blood pressure, kidney damage and engagement in high-risk behaviors.

The reports go on to state that the use of these so-called synthetic marijuana drugs has been associated with those using the drugs passing out in public, stumbling out into traffic and manifesting zombie-like appearances or appearing completely psychotic.

These behaviors depend on the dose of the K2, the person’s susceptibility to the compounds and what the actual chemical make-up is in the particular batch used. Because of the misleading labeling of “synthetic marijuana,” users expect their reaction to be similar to those of marijuana. However, most people experience much stronger symptoms, including hallucinations, extreme agitation, rapid heartbeat and extremely high blood pressure.

The use of synthetic marijuana has also been associated with paranoia, anxiety, panic attacks and psychotic episodes. Simply stated, many of the chemicals are deadly.

Some versions of K2, spice or synthetic marijuana are sold illegally on the street. This has always been a wonder for me. Why would anyone trust anyone on the street to sell them an unknown substance and then go ahead and put that into their bodies? Simply don’t get it. However, there are other versions of the compounds that are sold in stores as herbal blends with flashy packaging to make them appear mainstream, natural and somehow, therefore, safe.

According to Livescience, in 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration placed a number of compounds normally found in synthetic marijuana on its list of illegal substances, which led to newer version of K2 that are even more harmful than earlier versions. These newer versions cause low blood pressure and slow heart rate and can cause seizures, coma and kidney damage. Because the compounds are constantly changing, users of the drugs cannot know what to expect or how much of the drug they might take without overdosing.

I would be the last person on the face of the earth to advocate any type of recreational drug usage, but even I can see that at least with marijuana (if it is real) that it is a known entity and its effects would be constant. The unknowns with K2 are astronomical and potentially deadly.

Livescience writers report that regular marijuana contains the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which attaches to receptors in the brain to activate the release of chemicals that can induce feelings of paranoia, but marijuana also has another compound called cannabidiol (CBD) which stops the release of the paranoia-inducing chemicals.

With K2, there is only THC, no CBD, therefore the effects of paranoia are profound. Dr. D’Souza from Yale University School of Medicine notes that the compounds found in spice can be anywhere from between 10 to 200 times more potent than THC, causing extreme psychotic behavior and bodily damage.

He also stated that K2, spice or synthetic marijuana is used on a wide range of products that mostly contain some synthetic cannabinoids or combinations of them but may also be mixed with amphetamines or tranquilizers such as benzodiazepine.

There are so many healthy ways of feeling good. Working out, enjoying music, laughing with friends, eating good food. Why risk your health or your life for some evasive feeling of drug induced un-reality?

If you are an addict, there is help. The first step is wanting to be healthy and free, then taking steps to live clean. Don’t end up being a statistic, when you can get the help you need. The hospital personnel can refer you to an agency that can help.

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Jane Riley is a certified personal trainer, adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached atjanerileyfitness@gmail.com or (808) 212-8119 and www.janerileyfitness.com

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