Teens Abusing Synthetic Marijuana

A synthetic marijuana product, commonly called K2 or spice, is increasing in popularity among adolescents. K2 looks like marijuana, and is consumed the same way, either inhaled from a pipe or smoked as a ‘joint’ (marijuana rolled in paper, almost like a cigarette). K2 is actually a dry mixture of spices, tobacco and plant products sprayed with toxic chemicals that produce euphoric and psychoactive effects similar to those associated with THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Until last year, these products (which are sold under hundreds of different names but usually have K2 or Spice in the name) were sold in gas stations, convenience stores, and even over the Internet. It can legally be sold as herbal incense. However, in 2011, the Drug Enforcement Agency banned synthetic marijuana to “protect public health and safety.” The chemicals are now classified as Schedule I substances, which have “a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use for treatment in the United States and a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision.” Despite that ban, many of these products are still sold on the Internet, usually from foreign countries that claim their products are “DEA ban compliant,” and are fairly easy for teens to obtain. Additionally, teens can get confused because many of the products are labeled “natural,” and they think they are safe.

There is currently not a great deal known about the long-term effects of smoking K2, but the substance is sending more and more teenagers to the hospital. Unfortunately, not many emergency room physicians are familiar with the symptoms associated with synthetic marijuana, making it difficult to diagnose. Complicating the issue is that K2 is not detected with commercially available drug tests, another reason the substance is increasing in popularity among teens.

Signs of synthetic marijuana abuse include agitation, excessive sweating, inability to speak, restlessness and aggression. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 4,500 calls involving synthetic marijuana toxicity from 2010 to 2011.

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