Synthetic marijuana may cause kidney damage reports CDC
More evidence is accumulating that a street drug known as synthetic marijuana (also known as K2 and Spice) can cause serious harm. The latest indictment for the drug was released in the February 15 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report notes that last year, 16 individuals in six states suffered serious kidney damage, requiring a visit to hospital emergency departments after smoking synthetic marijuana.
Almost all the affected individuals were young males (aged 15 to 33), and most experienced nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or back pain, which are symptoms of kidney damage. None of the affected individuals had a history of kidney disease. The report comes on the heels of a December 2012 report prepared by the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that linked synthetic marijuana to 11,406 visits to US emergency departments in 2010. As with the CDC report, young people, particularly males, were reported to be the ones most often involved.
Synthetic marijuana is a mixture of herbs and chemical additives that are typically smoked; in July 2012, the product was declared illegal in the US in July 2012. Synthetic marijuana acts on the same brain cell receptors as natural marijuana; however, it is more likely to cause hallucinations and heart problems. Synthetic marijuana has also been linked to an increased risk of seizures. Currently, it is unknown how the drug causes kidney damage; however, an analysis of synthetic marijuana samples smoked by the individuals who suffered kidney damage found showed that five samples contained a substance known as XLR-11, which has only recently been found in synthetic marijuana products and might have been responsible for the kidney damage.
Currently, the only treatment for patients suspected of suffering from toxic effects from synthetic marijuana is treatment of symptoms; no antidote exists. All of the patients in this report recovered creatinine clearance (a test of kidney function) during their hospital stay; however, the length of time was variable and one patient was discharged before his creatinine normalized. Although most of the individuals have apparently recovered, the risk for long-term kidney sequelae might exist. The CDC recommends that physicians who care for otherwise healthy teens and young adults who have unexplained kidney damage should ask about synthetic marijuana use.
Synthetic cannabinoid compounds originally were developed to facilitate the study of cannabinoid receptor pharmacology; however, in recent years they have emerged as drugs of abuse. In 2005, synthetic marijuana products marketed as “Spice” first emerged in European nations, before appearing in the US in 2009, where they were marketed initially as “K2.” Currently, these substances are distributed worldwide under a wide variety of trade names and packaged in colorful wrappers designed to appeal to teens, young adults, and first-time drug users. Synthetic marijuana products are often are packaged with misleading labels such as “not for human consumption” or “incense.” However, healthcare professionals and legal authorities are keenly aware that these products are smoked like marijuana. The CDC notes that despite federal and state regulations to prohibit synthetic marijuana sale and distribution, illicit use continues, and reports of illness are increasing.
The expectation of a more intense high than that induced by marijuana, easy access, affordability, and avoidance of detection by many commonly used urine drug tests all contribute to the growing abuse of synthetic marijuana, particularly among male teenagers. The increasing use of these substances by young people, coupled with mounting evidence of adverse health effects, has led to state and federal legislation. Unfortunately, however, full recognition of the potential dangers of these products is not widespread among users or sellers; furthermore, they are currently available on the Internet and at many convenience stores. In addition, differences in state drug enforcement statutes have led to different laws and approaches to drug enforcement.