The use of synthetic marijuana is growing, and it poses a serious threat to you if you use it, a loved one who uses it, and the public as a whole. There have been an increasing number of reports recounting people who have used synthetic pot who have experienced dangerous side effects, including heart palpitations, dehydration, fever, seizures and psychotic episodes.
If you or someone you care about is dealing with an addiction to synthetic marijuana, you’re most likely concerned and want to learn as much about the drug as possible, its addiction potential, and perhaps above all, how to get treated for its addition.
This in-depth guide details what synthetic weed is, how it’s made, why it’s so dangerous and what to do if you or someone you love has used synthetic cannabis.
What is Synthetic Weed?
Synthetic marijuana is a man-made combination of different chemicals. You may be thinking that this sounds horribly dangerous. You’d be right. Synthetic cannabis is a designer drug where manufacturers spray lab-synthesized chemicals on incense, herbs or other leafy materials to mimic the psychoactive effects of the ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), that’s in the naturally grown cannabis Sativa marijuana plant.
The chemicals are referred to as cannabinoids because they’re related to the chemicals you find in the cannabis plant. This similarity, however, often misleads people due to the name “fake weed” or “synthetic marijuana,” and they are often advertised as legal and safe alternatives to cannabis. However, they often affect a person’s brain much more powerfully than natural cannabis — with often unpredictable effects that can be severe or even life-threatening.
Scientists have synthesized hundreds of, more aptly named, synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRA) compounds for research purposes in an academic setting. However, some of the compounds have been broken into a global but semi-legal market of “herbal incense.”
Scientists create SCRA’s to study the body’s endocannabinoid system and see how SCRA’s target cannabinoid receptors in various ways, changing cellular processes. Some experiments use Petri dishes; others use lab rats. None have ever been used for testing on humans in medical and controlled settings.
Manufacturers package and sell these herbal incense products in liquid forms, such as in plastic bottles and e-cigarette fluids, and in colorful foil packets. These herbal incense come in a variety of brand names like Spice and K2.
Now, there are hundreds of brand names used for synthetic marijuana, including:
K2 or Spice began growing in popularity with young adults and high school students because they could obtain it legally from smoke shops, convenience stores and online. This was before the national ban in July 2012 in the U.S. against the sale of synthetic cannabinoids. However, manufacturers find ways around getting their synthetic marijuana products out there and in the hands willing of buyers.
Why Synthetic Weed is Dangerous
Synthetic drugs are not safe for human consumption and are illegal. There’s been a cluster of hospitalizations where after using synthetics, people became disoriented, ill and even unconscious. There have even been cases of overdose in young adults.
Synthetic cannabis may cause:
- Elevated heart rate
Under the influence of Kush, you can become disorderly, incoherent and aggressive. The effects can last for hours, and since synthetic marijuana strains are continuously changing, it can be extremely tough for doctors to treat.
The most severe reported side effects include:
So, why is synthetic marijuana more dangerous than weed? The packaging of Moon Rock doesn’t tell you what drugs are in it or what effects you’ll experience. The active ingredients you’ll consume at any given time are random. There’s no true way to know the number of drugs you’ll get in a given package of Kush since batches could contain several active ingredients that, when taken together, can be more toxic. Lethal quantities like these are extremely difficult to detect until the user experiences negative reactions or death.
According to an emergency physician, Dr. Robert Glatter in New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital, teenagers who use synthetic cannabinoids are playing the Russian roulette game. He says they typically become very violent and aggressive in the ER and often require physical restraint or chemical sedation.
Glatter reports that each user’s reaction is unpredictable. He’s seen people with seizures that require intubation and airway management and others who smoke it and get mildly violent, seize once and show no other effects. In most cases, they’re “flailing around” and become aggressive and violent which can lead to them injuring themselves and staff members.
It can be difficult for users to gauge what amount of synthetic marijuana is too much because once officials identify and outlaw a synthesized cannabis formula, the producers change the chemical formula quickly to get it back out on the market and stay a step ahead of the law. This makes it unpredictable, dangerous and even deadly.
Synthetic Marijuana Statistics
- Spice is 85 times more potent than cannabis.
- There have been 41 overdoses linked to an SCBnamed smacked since August 11, 2014, in New Hampshire. This led the governor of the state to officially announce a State of Emergency.
- In 2010, there were 11,406 ER visits associated with synthetic weed.
- There were 2,900 spice-related calls in 2010 to the Poison Control Centers; by June 3, 2015, almost 7,000 calls about it, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
Synthetic Weed vs. Real Weed
Synthetic cannabinoids give you a psychotropic effect in the same manner as cannabis. It activates your brain’s and central nervous system’s CB1 cannabinoid receptor. Marijuana’s main THC ingredient also activates your immune system’s CB2 receptor. But when it comes to SCBs, they activate your CB1 receptor with way more intensity and to a greater degree than you would get with THC in cannabis.
The strength of synthetic weed depends on which compounds are in the SCBs. Think of each compound as a little piece of DNA, and any one of the analogs can be between one to 800 times more potent. You’ll have some that are 30 times more powerful; others five times.
So, the compounds that make up the synthetic Kush batch determines how powerful it will be. Since it’s lab-created and the analogs are continuously being changed to make it technically “not illegal,” it’s difficult to know their intensity on your CB1 cannabinoid receptor. Not to mention, since SCBs are different chemically from THC, they could even activate other receptors other than CB1. And so far unknown, these cellular receptors could be causing the unhealthy effects that SCB users experience.
It’s these effects of SCBs that suggest they cause a lot more toxicity than natural cannabis. Toxicity can affect a broad range of systems including neurological, renal, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems.
Clinical cases recorded include descriptions of long-term and acute symptoms like:
- Kidney Injury
- Chest Pain
- Ischemic Stroke
- Myocardial Toxicity
Synthetic cannabinoids also reportedly cause acute psychosis in susceptible people.
There are at least two reasons why people typically prefer Moon Rock over real marijuana. These include:
- Marijuana is not legal in their state.
- Synthetic cannabinoids don’t show up in a urine test.
However, these ill-considered “advantages” aren’t worth the severe side effects that can take a toll on your health or the risk of death. Also, depending on what state you live in and how good that law is, you risk state prosecution if you possess SCBs.
How to Tell the Difference Between K2 and Weed
You can’t just keep an eye out for weed that doesn’t look like weed. It’s way more complex than that. There are many forms of K2. Manufacturers will add it to herbs that look like marijuana or tobacco. You’ll even find vape juices on the market that contain SCBs.
Real cannabis has stems and is leafy like an actual plant. Spice, on the other hand, looks like a manufactured plant that feels artificially sticky like it’s been mixed with glue and it doesn’t crumble naturally. There’s a difference in smell, and instead of the regular cannabis taste you get when you smoke it, Kush just tastes like chemicals.
How Synthetic Marijuana is Made
Black Mamba is often advertised as “not for human consumption.” It’s printed right on the packages. There are also labels that claim it contains “natural” material obtained from various plants. But, the dried plant materials are the only part of this synthetic weed that is natural and they aren’t what give you that “high” effect. It’s the lab-made cannabinoid compounds that give you the mind-altering effects.
Most synthetic skunk is shipped overseas where manufacturers prepare different blends using acetone or high-proof alcohol solvents. They use a reverse-extraction: they use the solvents to dissolve the synthetic molecules and then either spray it on its plant-like host material or through a soaking process.
So, these lab-made chemicals have absolutely nothing to do with cannabis itself, and there’s no pharmaceutical grade to it. And once officials identify a batch and make its chemicals illegal, the manufacturers of spice will simply begin using other chemicals.
K2 makers will sometimes use roach spray (i.e. Raid) to coat the leaves to help make the chemicals and therefore the dealer untraceable. The early production days of spice came out with JWH 018, which has since been labeled toxic poison because it was so dangerous.
If you don’t know what chemicals make up the batch of spice, there’s no way you’ll know how it’s going to affect you. You never really know what dose you’ll be getting, one expert said. One package can leave you a little tingly while the next package can put you in the ICU.
What to Look Out For with Spice
K2 is a harder drug to identify than others since it takes many forms and is composed of many different chemicals. The chemicals themselves don’t have names. They go by numerical suffixes like JWH-018, JWH-073, or HU-210 and many others. The letters refer to the chemist who developed that particular batch of chemicals.
Although K2 can have similar effects to cannabis, the high you get comes on much more quickly and far more intense. And, you’re far more likely to have a severely adverse reaction to K2 than you would just smoking pot.
For instance, you may suffer with:
- Tremors and seizures
- Unconsciousness and coma
- Tingling and numbness
- Paranoia and hallucinations
- Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
- Panic attacks and anxiety
- Inability to speak
- Aggression and threatening behavior
- Terrible headaches
You can become so paranoid that you become violent and attack other people around you.
Behaviors on Herbal Incense
A sample of high school students was given a 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. This was a school-based anonymous questionnaire. To get an idea of the overall behavior of spice users, Heather Clayton, the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health’s health scientist turned to the survey. The survey consisted of over 15,000 students in grades 9 through 12 who each reported their behavior in four areas: substance use, mental health, injury and violence and sexual health.
- Substance Use. In the survey, around two-thirds of the students said they had never used SCBs or cannabis. However, almost a third stated that they have tried or routinely use cannabis and 23 percent of these students have also used synthetic weed.
- Sexual Risk-Taking. Clayton and her team dug a little deeper into the data and found out that students partial to SCBs were far more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors than those who only used cannabis. What she found was around 2 percent of teens who didn’t use had their first sexual intercourse experience before age thirteen: around 5 percent were teens who used cannabis. Almost 15 percent were spice users, and nearly 38 percent of these teens had engaged in sexual intercourse with four or more people, compared to 20 percent of cannabis using teens and 3 percent of nonuser teens.
- Teens who were partial to synthetic weed also showed more prevalence in violence. In fact, a third of SCB users carried a weapon, compared with 19 percent of marijuana users and 12 percent of nonusers. Half of the SCB users had been in a physical fight.
- Catastrophic Psychosis Reactions. Experts don’t completely know what’s going on in the brain that causes the bizarre behavior associated with K2 use. They came up with one possibility that the K2 drugs don’t have a certain compound that’s in cannabis that could be acting as a brake, preventing this type of behavior.
Although cannabis does contain THC that attaches to your brain’s receptors and activates a release of chemical messengers that may make you feel anxious or paranoid, it also produces cannabidiol (CBD) that stops your brain from continuing this chemical agent release.
This is not the case with spice users, speculates Yale University School of Medicine’s professor of psychiatry, Dr. Deepak D’Souza. Although SCBs contain THC, they don’t contain CBD; therefore the chemical messenger release in your brain continues and creates undesirable effects.
When teens and young adults hear the term “fake weed” or “synthetic marijuana” to describe SCB products, they get the false impression that spice gives them the same effects as cannabis. There’s a huge difference between the two, however. Spice compounds can be up to 200 times more potent than THC, producing robust consequences, says D’Souza.
And even though cannabis use has been connected with a loss of touch with reality or psychosis, users of SCBs experience more severe psychosis reactions involving out-of-control behaviors, D’Souza said.
What to Do if You or Someone You Love has Used Synthetic Cannabinoids
If you’re reading this and suspect that someone you care about or know is using synthetic marijuana, you may feel understandably frightened. But you should know that here at 12 Keys Rehab, we provide your loved one with support throughout every stage of their synthetic marijuana addiction treatment.
If you notice any of the symptoms described above, it could be a good indication you or a loved one used synthetic weed. You may notice agitation, a high heart rate, confusion or slurred speech. These are common signs of SCB use. If you’re worried about you or a loved one, take these considerations in mind:
- Does your loved one (or yourself) show any signs of using synthetic marijuana or may be thinking of using it?
- Is your loved one aggressive, irritable or unresponsive when they’re usually kind and calm?
Since Kush can be different each time it’s smoked, it can vary in effects. If you notice any behavior changes in your loved one, you’re probably right in thinking they’re using drugs, including Kush. In many reported synthetic weed abuse cases, users have had psychotic episodes. It’s important you don’t wait to act since your loved one could be at risk of irreversible impairment.
Call 9-1-1 immediately if your loved one:
You can also call your local Poison Control at the national phone number 1-800-222-1222. There are experts at 55 different locations ready to help you decide whether you can treat your loved one at home or if they need to get to a hospital.
Even if you or your loved one is aware of the signs of K2 use, it can still be difficult to stop using despite the negative effects and severe harm. Users of K2 are at risk of serious symptoms like seizures and coma. If your loved one refuses to stop abusing the drug, it may be time to get some help from a drug rehab.
In many cases, people who abuse drugs (even spice) also suffer from some form of mental illness. Although not everyone who is using spice or other drugs has a mental illness, those who do could be using the drug to self-medicate their symptoms. Some examples of mental illness known to co-occur with substance abuse include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Polysubstance abuse
- Depressive disorders
- Conduct disorder
- Anxiety disorder
- Posttraumatic stress disorder
- Attention-deficit disorder
- Antisocial personality disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
Get Treatment for a Synthetic Marijuana Addiction
If you or someone you love is addicted to synthetic marijuana or another designer drug, it’s time to seek help. At 12 Keys Rehab in Florida, we are here to help people not only get through their synthetic marijuana withdrawal symptoms but also figure out why they started abusing fake weed. We provide compassionate care here in our holistic treatment center. We offer you hope.
If stopped abruptly, you or someone you care about may experience withdrawal from their chronic use of synthetic cannabis. A drug rehab program, like those available here at 12 Keys Rehab, can help you or your loved one get through the stages of withdrawal symptoms including:
- Hot and cold flashes
- Violent temper tantrums
- Excessive anxiety
- Intense cravings
- Extreme lethargy
- Flu-like symptoms
- Social isolation
Here at 12 Keys Rehab, we’ve been helping people get over their addiction to synthetic marijuana and avoid relapse. And even though spice is a relatively new drug on the scene, we can help you or your loved one experience a lasting recovery. Our committed counselors can help you or your loved one repair the damage synthetic weed did to begin building a new life that’s drug-free and a set of skills to help with lasting sobriety.