2015 saw a record number of calls to poison control regarding the abuse of unpredictable, synthetic drugs like Spice/K2 and bath salts. What were once sold in convenience stores and marketed to young adults as “harmless alternatives to marijuana,” are now causing seizures, strokes, and deaths in drug users nationwide. A recent PBS report revealed that from January to May 2015, the United States recorded five deaths directly related to these legal, shelf-served drugs.
Synthetic drugs—deceivingly sold as Spice, bath salts, herbal incense, and potpourri; under brand names like Mr. Nice Guy, One Love, and Jungle Blueberry—are stirring a deadlier cocktail than we could have ever foreseen. Synthetic cannabinoids, said to mirror the effects of marijuana, are especially rousing adverse side effects in users— often within two hits of the drug. Individuals experimenting with synthetic drugs for the first time, therefore, are even at risk of serious consequences.
Use of synthetic marijuana have been associated with seizures, uncontrollable body movements, black outs, increased blood pressure, and heart palpitations. More severely, synthetic drugs like K2 or Spice have been linked to reduced blood supply to the heart and fatal heart attacks. Of recent, there have been medical reports of users experiencing psychosis, delusions, hallucinations, powerful aggression and violent behavior. Because of these ill effects, the National Institute on Drug Abuse warns that synthetic drugs are not solely dangerous to the user, but also to those around him.
It seems word on the straight outweighs the warning label, when “Let’s get high; this fake weed won’t show up in your drug test” becomes more prominent than the “Not for Human Consumption” advisory on the back of a 3.5 gram package. Synthetic cannabinoid products, while often advertised as “natural” plant material, typically contain active ingredients that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for human consumption.
What is in synthetic marijuana, exactly?
Unfortunately, no one truly knows for certain. No package fully discloses the make-up of the drugs’ contents, and while the DEA has been undergoing investigations over the last five years in attempt to uncover the lethal recipe behind these drugs, their chemical components remain unclear.
That is perhaps the most dangerous part of all. Synthetic drugs are manmade substances, concocted primarily overseas in laboratories throughout China. Users do not know what they are putting into their bodies. Recent concerns have been raised that synthetic marijuana may contain heavy metal residues mixed with toxic chemicals like nail polish remover. It is the unknown, the unpredictable combinations that make synthetic drugs and users’ reactions so scary. No one can predict the short-term or long-term effects of these drugs, because the composition is constantly being altered.
What is being done to prevent synthetic marijuana from harming our youth?
Synthetic cannabinoids have, in some shape or form, been outlawed across all 50 states. Yet still, synthetic drugs can be bought over the counter or at the click of a button. How? The problem is that their chemical make-up is constantly changing. The DEA has already encountered over 200 new psychoactive substances in investigating synthetic substances. They have banned many of these in attempt to stop manufacturers. But as soon as the DEA bans one compound, makers simply change up the drug’s recipe to skirt legislation. DEA Chief of Operations, James Capra, explains that one molecular alteration “changes the whole structure of the drug, so the drug becomes legal and we’re at it again.”
Are synthetic substances becoming the new face of drug abuse?
When considering synthetic marijuana’s dangers, we also have to take a look at the bigger picture. What is this emerging drug trend revealing about the future of our drug problem in the United States? Are “designer drugs” going to become the norm amongst our youth?
Many think so. With so many teens buying drugs online, in combination with market globalization, it cheap manmade drugs may continue to overflow the drug market for years to come.
The scary part about this wave of synthetic marijuana abuse is that we do not know its lasting impact. Yes, we have witnessed the short-term effects. We have seen teenagers’ near-death experiences after trying synthetic drugs for the first-time. But what about long-term? While we know the long-term effects cannot be good, but we don’t know what they are just yet. What will our children’s brains look like down the road? How will synthetic marijuana impact their ability to learn, to function, and to live, ten or twenty years from now?
We don’t have all the answers yet, but we do know this: We must stop synthetic marijuana abuse before it takes over the lives of our loved ones. We should support the research being done to uncover the facts about synthetic marijuana. We need to get educated. We need to get our sons, our daughters, our students, our siblings the help that they deserve.
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