Synthetic marijuana is a common term for a group of powerful man-made chemicals that mimic the basic drug effects of marijuana, often in an unusually potent form. Users of these chemicals sometimes experience overdose episodes that require prompt medical treatment to reduce the potential for fatal outcomes.
According to officials from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, outbreaks of synthetic marijuana overdoses have recently occurred in two locales, New Hampshire and New York City. These outbreaks may be related to the tendency of synthetic marijuana manufacturers to create new active ingredients as part of an attempt to evade legal prosecution for their activities.
Synthetic Cannabinoids And Synthetic Marijuana
All synthetic marijuana products contain chemicals called synthetic cannabinoids, which produce a drug effect inside the brain through the same pathway used by the main marijuana ingredient THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Synthetic cannabinoids commonly have unmemorable laboratory names such as JWH-073 and CP 47,497. More colorful street names for the herbal mixtures that contain these chemicals include Spice, K2, Skunk and AK-47.
Synthetic marijuana products first appeared in the U.S. in 2008. Since that time, Congress, federal law enforcement officials and state and local governments have taken steps to outlaw the sale or possession of many of the best-known synthetic cannabinoids used in the creation of these products. Unfortunately, illicit drug manufacturers can elude the letter of the law fairly easily by inventing new forms of cannabinoids not currently regulated under federal, state or local statute.
Synthetic Marijuana Overdose
Some of the synthetic cannabinoids currently identified by researchers have a drug potency that far outstrips the potency of THC. Consumption of even a small amount of a powerful synthetic cannabinoid can potentially produce a drug overdose by overwhelming normal function in the brain or body.
Signs Of Synthetic Marijuana Overdose
Potential consequences of a synthetic marijuana overdose include:
- sharply accelerated heartbeat
- sharp increase in normal blood pressure levels
- spasming or trembling muscles
- full-body convulsions or seizures
- highly anxious, agitated or overtly psychotic mental state
Some affected individuals experience heart attacks or other rapid, potentially fatal changes in their health.
The Difficulties Of Treating Synthetic Marijuana Overdose
The recognition and treatment of a synthetic marijuana overdose are complicated by the fact that no users of the drug (or doctors treating an overdose victim) know in advance the types of synthetic cannabinoid contained in any given batch of the drug. In addition, even when the cannabinoid in question is known, doctors commonly have little or no detailed information on the specific effects that substance has on the human body.
Is There A Current Spike?
An organization called the American Association of Poison Control Centers tracks the number of people in the U.S. who contact a poison control center after using or otherwise being exposed to synthetic marijuana. For the first seven months of 2014, the number of such contacts stood at 1,719. Projected over the full course of the year, the rate of synthetic marijuana-related calls to poison control centers will exceed the rate for 2013. However, both the 2013 and 2014 rates are far below the rates recorded for 2011 and 2012 (a fact that may or may not have a bearing on the frequency of synthetic marijuana overdoses).
In July 2014, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a warning against the use of synthetic marijuana after 15 consumers of the drug developed severe side effects in the span of just three days. New York Health Department officials also noted a doubling of synthetic marijuana-related visits to emergency rooms in the city since the beginning of the 2014 calendar year. The officials did not note the specific type of synthetic marijuana to blame for the spike in overdose episodes.
In August 2014, the governor of New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan, issued a statewide health emergency alert after 41 people in the Manchester area overdosed on synthetic marijuana in just three days. Almost half of these individuals required hospital treatment. The street name of the product apparently responsible for this overdose outbreak is “Smacked” (particularly, a form of this product identified as bubblegum favor). However, the synthetic cannabinoid contained in Smacked is not specifically known.
Challenge Of New Drugs
The problems in New York City and New Hampshire underscore the difficulty that local, state and federal officials face when trying to enforce current synthetic marijuana laws or extend current laws to cover new forms of synthetic cannabinoids. In their attempts to create novel products that evade drug statutes, drug manufacturers may produce largely unidentifiable substances with an extravagant ability to cause serious harm in the average user.
Learn More About The Dangers Of Different Synthetic Drugs