The disastrous impact of synthetic marijuana on America's youth
According to a new government study, a street drug known as synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 and Spice, has been linked to 11,406 visits to US emergency departments (EDs) in 2010. The first-of-its kind report noted that young people, particularly males, are most often involved. The report, prepared by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), was published online on December 4.
Synthetic cannabinoids are substances that are not derived from the marijuana plant but are promoted as having a comparable effect to the drug. An increasing number of states have passed laws against the sale of synthetic cannabinoids; however, they have been marketed as a “legal” alternative to marijuana during the past few years. SAMSHA notes that in July 2012, a comprehensive, national ban was enacted against the sale of synthetic cannabinoids under Title XI of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act.
The SAMSHA report notes that the use of synthetic cannabinoids has been reported to produce a variety of adverse effects such as agitation, nausea, vomiting, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), elevated blood pressure, tremor, seizures, hallucinations, paranoid behavior, and non-responsiveness. The report found that youths between the ages of 12 to 29 constituted 75% of all hospital ED visits involving synthetic cannabinoids, with males accounted for 78% of the ED admissions among this age group. The average age for people involved in synthetic cannabinoid-related ED admissions was younger than for marijuana-related ED visits (24 years old versus 30 years old).
“Health care professionals should be alerted to the potential dangers of synthetic cannabinoids, and they should be aware that their patients may be using these substances,” noted SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. She added, “Parents, teachers, coaches and other concerned adults can make a huge impact by talking to young people, especially older adolescents and young adults, about the potential risks associated with using synthetic marijuana.”
“This report confirms that synthetic drugs cause substantial damage to public health and safety in America,” said Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Gil Kerlikowske. He added, “Make no mistake: the use of synthetic cannabinoids can cause serious, lasting damage, particularly in young people. Parents have a responsibility to learn what these drugs can do and to educate their families about the negative impact they cause.”
SAMHSA notes that several grantees funded under SAMHSA’s various programs are working to prevent the use of synthetic marijuana. Many states are providing prevention education to local communities, including webinars and fact sheets for parents on the signs and symptoms of the use of synthetic marijuana. Questions also are being added to school surveys to determine the incidence and prevalence of the use of synthetic marijuana by youth. Grantees funded by the ONDCP’s Drug-Free Communities Support Program have provided tremendous insight to local synthetic marijuana issues and are using environmental policies aimed at limiting access to these dangerous substances in local retail stores. In addition, SAMHSA’s Division of Workplace Programs maintains a list of Department of Health and Human Services-certified laboratories that test regulated specimens for “K2” or “Spice.”