The Dangers of Synthetic Marijuana (and Why the Drug Remains So Common)



Synthetic marijuana (K2, Spice) is often marketed as a safe, legal alternative to cannabis. It’s easy to obtain, inexpensive, and inconspicuous.

But the drug has gained national attention in recent years–not for its popularity, but for the significant and frequent dangers of synthetic marijuana.

According to a recent report on NPR, in July of this year, more than 300 people overdosed in Washington, D.C. in a two week period (including 3 deaths). In New Haven, Connecticut, more than 70 people were sent to the hospital after consuming tainted K2. In central Illinois, “fake weed” has caused at least 56 cases of severe bleeding and 2 deaths.

Tegan Boehmer, a senior research scientist at CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health in Atlanta, said that in less than one month, state departments around the nation have reported 255 cases, including 8 deaths, associated with synthetic marijuana that contained brodifacoum, an ingredient in rat poison.

Even now, we’re learning about new dangers of synthetic marijuana… dangers that can occur whether or not someone overdoses.

But the harmful, sometimes deadly cannabis “alternative” isn’t going away.

What Is Synthetic Marijuana (and Why Is It So Dangerous)?

Synthetic pot, or fake pot, is a combination of man-made chemicals designed to mimic the effects of natural cannabinoids.

Classified as a new psychoactive substance (NPS), the unregulated, mind-altering drug interacts with CB1 receptors in much the same way the cannabinoids in marijuana do. Hence the name, “synthetic cannabinoids.”  

The chemicals can be sprayed on dried plant materials, brewed as tea, or converted into a liquid and vaped in an e-cigarette, further cementing the comparisons to traditional marijuana.

Because synthetic pot has no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse, there has been a crackdown on its sale and use. But producers are able to work around restrictions by changing their chemical formula and selling the drug online.

And the combination of chemicals–though often legal and “harmless” on their own–can be deadly when combined. Batches of the drug can also contain widely different ratios of chemicals, making the effects unpredictable and extremely dangerous.

The drug can cause chest pain, vomiting, high blood pressure, tremors, seizures, hallucinations, paranoia, confusion, and violent behavior. In some cases–either through an overdose, tainted product, or interactions with other chemicals–the drug can kill you.

And unlike cannabis, regular users have reported more pronounced withdrawal symptoms–including headaches, irritability, anxiety, and depression–suggesting the marijuana alternative can be physically addictive.

So why are so many people continuing to use synthetic cannabinoids when they present such a serious health risk?

Why Do People Keep Using Synthetic Cannabinoids?

Despite the many dangers, synthetic cannabinoids continue to attract customers in the U.S. and around the world.

K2 is often marketed as “natural,” though the only natural component is the dried plant material on which the chemicals are sprayed. This misleading marketing can lead consumers to believe it is safer than cannabis (ironic, since cannabis is actually natural).

The drug is also attractive to those consumers who buy into anti-marijuana messages, especially when those messages come from people they trust or view as authorities, like family members, celebrities or politicians.

Making it even more appealing, synthetic pot is easy to access, cheaper than cannabis, and harder to detect in drug tests. Throw in the fact that synthetic cannabinoids can cause reactions hundreds of times stronger than a similar dose of cannabis, and it’s easy to understand why the drug isn’t going away, despite almost daily reports of overdoses, tainted products, severe bleeding, and death.

Stick with Real, Natural Cannabis

The dangers of synthetic cannabinoids (fake weed, K2, Spice) are undeniable. It isn’t a safer alternative for cannabis–quite the opposite–and the result of using the drug can be devastating for individuals and their loved ones.

So the next time you want to get high, stick with the real thing: good old cannabis from your local marijuana dispensary.

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