Synthetic Marijuana Abuse Information

Understanding Synthetic Marijuana Addiction

Learn About Synthetic Marijuana Addiction & Abuse

Synthetic marijuana, also known as spice or K2, was originally marketed as a safe alternative to marijuana. However, there is little that is safe about this drug. Synthetic marijuana is a mixture of dried plant material and chemical compounds. These chemical compounds give spice its psychoactive effects, which can be similar to the effects of marijuana intoxication. Typically smoked or brewed into a tea, the drug can induce a euphoric mood, feelings of relaxation, and changes in one’s perception, though some people have experienced anxious feelings, paranoia, and symptoms of psychosis.

One of the primary dangers of synthetic marijuana is its continually-changing composition. In an effort to keep the public safe, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified the five most common chemicals in synthetic marijuana as controlled substances. However, spice manufacturers have simply begun altering the chemical composition of the drug to evade these restrictions and stay one step ahead of the DEA. With manufacturers frequently altering the chemical make-up of synthetic marijuana, a user never knows quite what formulation of the drug he or she is using and therefore cannot always predict the effects the drug will have on him or her. Furthermore, because the drug is so new, there has been little research on the long-term health effects of its use.

Synthetic marijuana abuse can have a devastating effect on a person’s life, and there is even potential for as-yet-unknown health risks. Fortunately, treatment is available to help someone combat a synthetic marijuana use disorder and allow him or her to live a life free from this dangerous substance.


Synthetic Marijuana Abuse Statistics

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), spice is the second most common drug of abuse among high school seniors; only marijuana is more common. One study of past-year synthetic marijuana use found that over 11% of high school seniors had used the drug. Additionally, data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network indicates that 11,406 emergency room visits in 2010 were related to use of synthetic marijuana.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Although synthetic marijuana is a relatively new drug with little research available regarding risk factors for its abuse, extensive research on substance use disorders in general has indicated that both genetic and environmental factors play a role in determining a person’s risk for developing a substance use disorder. These risk factors can include the following:

Genetic: Much research suggests that a person’s risk for developing a substance use disorder is at least partially hereditary. Perhaps the most prominent example of hereditary influence is that people whose parents abuse substances are more likely to also abuse substances.

Environmental: While heredity plays a powerful role in determining a person’s risk for engaging in substance abuse, a person’s environment is also a strong influence. People who live in households or communities where drug abuse is common are more likely to begin abusing substances than are people who live in relatively drug-free environments. Different types of victimization, such as child abuse or neglect, rape, or violent crime can increase one’s risk for abusing substances as well. Furthermore, associating with people who abuse drugs can also be a risk factor for drug abuse.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of mental illness or substance abuse
  • Personal history of mental illness or substance abuse
  • Gender, as synthetic marijuana abuse is more common among men than women
  • Age, with synthetic marijuana abuse occurring most commonly in young people
  • Exposure to childhood abuse or neglect
  • Associating with other synthetic marijuana users
  • Experiencing a traumatic event
  • Having stress management skills that are insufficient for one’s stressors

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Because the formulations of synthetic marijuana are constantly changing, and because each person’s pattern of use is different, the signs and symptoms that someone is abusing this substance may vary. However, below are some common signs and symptoms that may be indicative of a synthetic marijuana use disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Continuing to use the drug despite knowing about a physical or psychological problem that is being made worse due to use
  • Use of synthetic marijuana even in situations where using could put someone in danger of physical harm
  • Pulling away from important social, work, academic, or recreational activities because of use
  • Being unable to reduce or control synthetic marijuana use
  • Using synthetic marijuana over a longer period of time or in larger amounts than a person intends

Physical symptoms:

  • Experiencing withdrawal upon discontinuing or reducing synthetic marijuana use
  • Developing tolerance, or a need for greater amounts of synthetic marijuana in order to feel the desired effects
  • Shaking, tremors, or jitteriness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Panic attacks
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Having strong desires to use synthetic marijuana
  • Hallucinations
  • Changes in one’s perceptual experience
  • Paranoia

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mood elevation
  • Feeling relaxed
  • Anxiety


Effects of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

If left untreated, an ongoing synthetic marijuana use disorder can be devastating and possibly even fatal. Because the drug is so new, however, many of its long-term physiological effects are unknown. Some of the currently known effects of spice abuse may include:

  • Decline in cognitive functioning
  • Organ damage
  • Difficulties keeping up with work or school
  • Possible demotion at work or a loss of one’s job
  • Academic expulsion
  • Financial difficulties
  • Onset or worsening of mental health symptoms
  • Polysubstance use, addiction, or chemical dependency
  • Strained or broken personal relationships
  • Heart attack
  • Psychosis

Co-Occurring Disorders

Synthetic Marijuana Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

People with synthetic marijuana use disorder sometimes struggle with other mental health issues as well. Some of the more common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
  • Paranoid personality disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Conduct disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Synthetic Marijuana Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal: When a person attempts to stop using spice after a long period of use, he or she may experience a number of uncomfortable symptoms as his or her body readjusts to functioning without the presence of the drug. Some of these symptoms may include:

  • Cravings for synthetic marijuana
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Tiredness
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling hot or cold
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Thoughts of suicide

Effects of synthetic marijuana overdose: Synthetic marijuana is a dangerous drug, and it is possible for a person to ingest more of the drug than his or her body can safely metabolize or excrete. In these situations, a person will experience an overdose and will require immediate medical attention. Symptoms of an overdose may include:

  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Agitation or aggression
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Heart attack

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