PhotoThough a number of states have recently cracked down on synthetic drugs for recreational use, they continue to be promoted and sold in wide areas of the country. Drug experts say that in some cases, they may be more harmful than the illegal drugs they emulate.

Take synthetic marijuana, for example. According to a new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) it was linked to 11,406 of the 4.9 million drug-related emergency department (ED) visits in 2010.

Commonly known by such street names as “K2” or “Spice,” synthetic cannabinoids are substances that are not made from the marijuana plant but claim to have the same effect as the drug. Though an increasing number of states have passed laws against the sale of synthetic cannabinoids, they have been marketed as incense and a “legal” alternative to marijuana during the past few years.

However, last July a comprehensive, national ban was enacted against the sale of synthetic cannabinoids under Title XI of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act.


The report says that the use of synthetic marijuana is tied to a variety of reported symptoms including agitation, nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, tremor, seizures, hallucinations, paranoid behavior and non-responsiveness.

The report found that young people between the ages of 12 and 29 made up 75 percent of all hospital ED visits involving synthetic marijuana, with males accounting for 78 percent of the ED admissions among this age group. The average age for people involved in synthetic cannabinoid-related ED admissions was younger than for marijuana-related ED visits – 24 years old versus 30 years old.

“Health care professionals should be alerted to the potential dangers of synthetic cannabinoids, and they should be aware that their patients may be using these substances,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. “Parents, teachers, coaches and other concerned adults can make a huge impact by talking to young people, especially older adolescents and young adults, about the potential risks associated with using synthetic marijuana.”

Spring break

In March, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi appealed to spring break vacationers to stay away from K2 and other synthetic drugs. Since then the drugs have been outlawed, not just in Florida, but nationwide. Not only can you be arrested for possessing or selling the drugs, health experts say users can cause real harm, as evidenced by the report.

“This report confirms that synthetic drugs cause substantial damage to public health and safety in America,” said Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Gil Kerlikowske. “Make no mistake -- the use of synthetic cannabinoids can cause serious, lasting damage, particularly in young people. Parents have a responsibility to learn what these drugs can do and to educate their families about the negative impact they cause.”

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