synthetic marijuana

What you need to know about synthetic marijuana

All too often we’re hearing the story of another star athlete, college-bound, honor-roll student who made a poor decision to use synthetic marijuana and ended up dead or severely impaired.

It’s time we educate ourselves and loved ones about the dangers of synthetic marijuana.

The basics of synthetic marijuana

Synthetic marijuana, also known and sold under names such as Spice, K2, Moon Rocks, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, and others—and labeled “not for human consumption” — are products that contain dried, shredded plant materials and chemical additives that are responsible for psychoactive affects similar to marijuana. The drugs are also being marketed and sold as legal alternatives to marijuana, cocaine, meth, and heroine.

For several years, synthetic marijuana was easy to purchase in head shops, gas stations, and over the internet. Since the chemicals used in synthetic marijuana have a high potential for abuse with no benefit, the Drug Enforcement Agency has designated the five active chemicals most frequently found in synthetic marijuana as Schedule I controlled substances, making it illegal to sell, buy, or possess them.

Manufactures of synthetic marijuana attempt to evade these legal restrictions by substituting different chemicals in their mixtures. Once the chemical companies alter the compound ever so slightly, it is no longer a controlled substance.

Easy access and misperception that these products are “natural” and “harmless” have contributed to their popularity. Another “selling point” is that the chemicals used in synthetic marijuana are not easily detected in standard drug tests.

The dangerous facts

These products are popular among youth and of the illicit drugs most used by high-school seniors, synthetic marijuana is second only to marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Synthetic marijuana is also more popular among boys than girls— in 2012, nearly twice as many male 12th graders reported past-year use of synthetic marijuana as females in the same age group.

With the raising popularity of synthetic marijuana, emergency rooms have also seen an increase in visits associated with synthetic marijuana. In 2012, 11,406 ER visits were associated with synthetic marijuana, according to NIDA. Of those 11,406, 75% were among adolescents and young adults between 12-29 and 22.5% were females and 77.5% involved males.

Marilyn A. Huestis, Ph.D., a research scientist with the NIDA, says that synthetic drugs are a major problem and are more potent than the drugs they mimic and that’s why we have more deaths and adverse effects.

Dr. Joe Funk, a physician with Northside Hospital’s Department of Emergency Medicine in Georgia, is quoted in a CNN article saying that those who use synthetic drugs “just lose control” and “will be combative and violent, just cussing you out. And after they come [out] of it, they don’t realize what they did.”

What parents can do

“Until the death of our son, we knew very little about synthetic designer drugs,” Said Keith and Debbie Bjerk in an editorial published on CNN. The couple wants parents to understand that America is at war with synthetic drugs and sadly, the majority of Americans don’t know about synthetic drugs and how easily accessible it is.

If you’re reading this, you’ve made the right first step in understand the basics of synthetic marijuana. It’s important to understand and communicate the risk of synthetic marijuana with your loved ones.

Research shows that the main reason kids don’t use alcohol, tobacco, or drugs is because of their parents—because of their positive influence and because they know it would disappoint them. That’s why it’s critical to set boundaries and build a strong relationship with children and talk to them about substance abuse.

If you are concerned about someone you know using synthetic marijuana, here are some resources to help: