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Synthetic Marijuana (Spice) Addiction

Posted on June 9, 2013 in Designer Drugs, Uncategorized

spiceSynthetic Marijuana is advertised as a “safe, natural and legal high.”  It is not “synthetic” marijuana. It is not legal, and it is also not natural. It is absolutely not safe. Packages of synthetic marijuana usually have labels that say “unfit for human consumption.”  That much is true.

What is Synthetic Marijuana?

Synthetic Marijuana or “Spice” is a general term for dried plant material that has been sprayed with man-made chemicals supposedly similar to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient naturally found in marijuana plants. Spice is sold under a variety of names like “Tropic Synergy” and “Galaxy Gold” in small packets that look something like potpourri. Gasoline stations, convenience stores, head shops and Internet outlets carry these products, usually sold as incense or other ways to add fragrance. A typical label on one packet reads, “An exotic incense blend which releases a rich aroma,” adding “not for human consumption.” The market for spice is big — one head shop in Washington, DC reported “spice” sales of over $10,000 just on Fridays.

It is impossible to say what is in any synthetic marijuana packet because products vary by location and manufacturer. Some get pulled from the market for legal reasons, even as new ones with new names quickly appear to replace them.

University medical researchers originally developed synthetic marijuana in the 1980s after studying how THC worked in certain receptor cells in the brain and central nervous system in the 1980s. They found out it attaches itself to receptors in the cerebellum, hippocampus and cerebral cortex of the brain, all of which involve hunger, memory and temperature. As they worked to develop medications related to those functions, they discovered over 400 artificial cannabinols, some over 100 times stronger than THC. Dr. John Huffman, one such researcher at Clemson University, is now accused of using a $2 million grant from the United States government to create dangerous drugs that poison American youth. He carefully explains that none of these were ever meant to be used recreationally. As he said recently, “You would have to be an idiot to smoke them.”

Packages of synthetic marijuana first surfaced about 2004 in Europe. Between 2009 and 2011, the products were dramatically increasing in the United States. In 2009 German researchers from the University of Freiburg took apart hundreds of packets to determine what was in them. Most of them weighed about three ounces and contained dried plants, including beach bean, lily, skullcap, Lion’s ear, lotus, honeyweed, marshmallow, dog rose and maconhabrava, but there were many variations and combinations. The plant material had been sprayed with artificial cannabinols, which caused the psychotropic effects that recreational users were seeking. Five manmade cannabinols were most common — three were classified as potent, and two as “very potent.” Their report reads, “Contents vary from innocuous non-psychoactive vegetable matter to synthetic chemicals with marked psychoactive properties.”

Artificial cannabinols were being produced in laboratories to mimic the natural drug, with results that were extremely unpredictable. These fake cannabinols probably act on the same cell receptors in the brain as does THC, but perhaps in different ways. THC only binds partially to them, but some of the artificial ones may bind completely and are therefore much stronger. These drugs are so new that scientific research is incomplete.

The European research team found that most spice packets contain about two to three percent active compounds. American chemists found that these compounds could be similar to the ones in certain “bath salts,” also being ingested for their hallucinatory effects.

Recreational users of synthetic marijuana usually smoke it through bongs or pipes, roll it into cigarettes often mixed with marijuana, or sprinkle or mix it into food.

What is the Legal Status of Synthetic Marijuana?

People who use synthetic marijuana think it is legal, but it is not. In July 2012, the United States Congress passed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, which bans five cannabinols most often found in spice packets, and classifies them as Schedule I Controlled Substances along with natural marijuana. Schedule I substances have no medical purposes, cannot be prescribed by doctors (despite “medical marijuana laws”), and are addictive. The penalties and fines for selling and possessing Schedule I substances are the most severe in all the drug laws; for example, you can receive five to forty years in prison for a first offense, and ten to life in prison for a second.

In order to get around the laws, manufacturers of synthetic marijuana keep changing their formulas. Joshua Stephens, an undercover police officer who works in drug trafficking, said, “They’ll use other substances until it becomes banned, and then they’ll switch to a different substance that produces the same effect. The law is going to continue to be one step behind these individuals making this product.”

However, sometimes law enforcement officers can prosecute traffickers of synthetic marijuana under the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986. This law, originally aimed at “designer” hallucinogens, states that any drug that is an analogue or chemically similar to another drug that is already scheduled can be classified in that same way. In other words, any chemical in synthetic marijuana that is similar to THC can be treated as a Schedule I Substance. In many states, certain cannabinols not officially scheduled by the federal government are nonetheless illegal under local laws.

Will Synthetic Marijuana Show Up on Urine Tests at School or Work?

People believe that synthetic marijuana does not show up on routine urine tests, but this is not true. For example, twelve Auburn University football players in 2010 tested positive for it — some on several occasions. It used to be true that only specific tests, usually used in sports, could screen for synthetic marijuana, but companies such as Ameritox are now providing kits that detect it.

What are the Effects of Smoking Synthetic Marijuana?

Synthetic marijuana usually causes an altered mood and perception that begins within three to five minutes of ingestion, and can last one to eight hours, with some people still feeling it the next day. The effect of natural marijuana typically lasts one to three hours.

Other common effects are loss of control, inability to feel pain, pale skin, heart palpitations, nervousness, nausea, tremors, dilated pupils, flushing, and high blood pressure. Depending on the drug, people have experienced paranoia, restlessness, depression, delusions, and hallucinations. Synthetic marijuana has been known to cause psychotic episodes and seizures, and should not be compared to marijuana.

What are the Risks of Synthetic Marijuana?

One of the biggest risks is addiction in that you can develop cravings for the drug, physical dependency on synthetic marijuana, and experience a withdrawal syndrome when you try to quit using it. As one addiction specialist said, “It has done tremendous damage. You can get very addicted to it.”

Researchers for the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction analyzed the chemicals in synthetic marijuana and concluded that while they are similar to THC, they may be worse in that addiction could develop more quickly, and they could be more likely to cause overdoses. They are probably cancer-causing. The Michigan Community Department of Health warns that they may cause damage to reproductive organs if used long-term. Because these drugs raise blood pressure, they put you at risk for heart attacks.

People who work in emergency rooms are reporting that synthetic marijuana can produce extreme agitation — the kind that requires several people to hold down one person under its influence– as well as psychotic episodes. A teenager named David Rozga shot himself in the head one hour after smoking K2 and telling a friend he believed he was in hell.

Anthony Scalzo, medical director of the Missouri Poison Control Centers, has reported, “We’re getting extreme anxiety, agitation, heightened blood pressure and heartbeats. I’ve done emergency room medicine for 28 years and toxicology for 22, and I don’t see that kind of effect from a patient who comes in, having taken marijuana.”

What Drugs May Interact With Synthetic Marijuana?

Because synthetic marijuana is relatively new, not enough studies have been done on drug interactions, However, research on regular marijuana have found that it should not be used with anything that slows down the central nervous system, such as barbiturates, narcotics, alcohol, and antihistamines. Marijuana interacts with antidepressants like Prozac and Xanax, blood thinners, and asthma medications.

Who Should Never Use Synthetic Marijuana?

No one should use synthetic marijuana because it is unpredictable. Since you never know what you are buying and what chemicals are in your packet, each time you use it, you’re playing Russian Roulette, as its discoverer, Dr. John Huffman, was quoted in a report to Congress.

It should not be used by epileptics because it can cause seizures. It should not be used by people with histories of mental illnesses because it could cause a psychotic episode. Marijuana has an effect on blood sugar, and should not be used by diabetics. Smoking synthetic marijuana probably increases your risk for colds, bronchitis and pneumonia, and worsens chronic lung conditions, such as asthma. People with high blood pressure, lung and liver diseases, and histories of drug abuse and alcoholism should not experiment with synthetic marijuana.

What is a Synthetic Marijuana Overdose?

In 2010, poison control centers throughout the United States received 3,200 phone calls concerning synthetic marijuana. In 2011, the number of calls increased to 13,000. In 2010 over 11,400 people went to emergency rooms for treatment for overdoses or adverse reactions to synthetic marijuana. Typical symptoms are extreme agitation, seizures, anxiety, fast heartbeat, high blood pressure, muscle spasms, tremors, hallucinations, psychosis, and suicidal thoughts. Some people collapse and stop breathing.

A 2011 article published in Pediatrics described three teenagers who were treated for overdoses to synthetic marijuana. They had elevated heart rates, agitation, anxiety, dizziness, headaches, sweating, confusion, slowed speech, and catatonia. Two stayed up in ER for up to four hours, and one had to be hospitalized overnight.

What Is Withdrawal from Synthetic Marijuana like?

People who become addicted to synthetic marijuana experience an unpleasant withdrawal syndrome when they try to stop using their drug. Avoiding the withdrawal syndrome becomes a reason to keep using synthetic marijuana. Symptoms of withdrawal are the same as withdrawal from regular marijuana. They include anger, aggression, irritability, nervousness, insomnia, and decreased appetite. Some people experience extreme mood disorders and “weepiness” for several months, depending on their level of addiction.

What is Synthetic Marijuana Abuse and Addiction?

Synthetic marijuana only surfaced a few years ago, but it is already wildly popular among people under 25 years old, people who like to experiment with new drugs, those who have to take drug tests at work or school, prisoners, parolees, and members of the Armed Services. Researchers found 11 million Internet searches for “spice” and 115 online shops selling the drug in 2009. On July 26, 2012, “Operation Log Jam,” a cooperative effort among the U.S. Customs Services, the Drug Enforcement Agency and local police in 109 cities, resulted in the confiscation of almost five million packets of “spice,” $36 million in cash, and the arrests of 91 people in 31 states.

One evidence that the use of synthetic marijuana is increasing is from the American Association of Poison Control Centers and data from medical emergency facilities, which are both reporting increases in the number of people treated for reactions from synthetic marijuana.

The 2012 Monitoring the Future Study, a government survey of over 45,000 high school students from the University of Michigan, found that 38% of high school seniors used marijuana within the past month and 12% used synthetic marijuana.
Spice is second only to marijuana in overall popularity, especially among boys who use it at twice the rates of high school girls. Alcohol, cigarettes, and cocaine use has declined, but marijuana and spice are at a 30-year peak.

Part of the reason for the popularity of synthetic marijuana is that stores do not restrict its sale by age. However, the most frequently cited reason for the increase in popularity of both marijuana and spice is the legalization of “medical marijuana” in Washington, Oregon, and other states. Young people believe this means it is safe to use. Also, as laws loosen up, more marijuana becomes available.

“We’re clearly seeing an increase in marijuana use that corresponds pretty clearly in time with the increase in medical marijuana use,” said Christine Thurstone, director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program for Denver Hospital Authority.

Another simple explanation for the dramatic increase in synthetic marijuana use is that more people have become addicted to it. While there are only a few studies of synthetic marijuana, researchers have already proven that regular marijuana is addictive. About 9% of people who experiment with it become addicted, compared to 17% for cocaine, and 23% for heroin. Since about 15 million Americans use marijuana every month, probably 1.35 million are addicts or will become so.

Marijuana addicts often express dissatisfaction with their lives and accomplishments, and are less likely to succeed in school, probably because their drug interferes with memory and other cognitive functions.

What Treatments Are Available for Marijuana Addiction?

Over 750,000 people enter drug rehabilitation every year, and 85% of them are involved with marijuana, although marijuana is usually not their only addiction. Most often they are using a variety of drugs and alcohol along with marijuana, and the majority of them have comorbidities. Addiction counselors are reporting more admissions for treatment for synthetic marijuana addictions, particularly among young people.

“They are entering rehab clinics, and they are carrying their cards for their medical marijuana clinics,” said one counselor.

Comorbidities are separate psychiatric problems that travel along with addiction but do not necessarily cause it. Addicts are typically suffering from undiagnosed depression, posttraumatic stress syndrome, childhood incest, childhood trauma, bipolar disorders, and other comorbidities. These problems have to be addressed in the treatment program as separate issues with separate treatments and medications.

Usually, you will enter a residential treatment center and undergo withdrawal from drugs under medical supervision. Your symptoms can be eased with various procedures and medications. Once you complete detoxification, you move into the residence with others facing similar challenges.

You usually will have a personal therapist, who will see you every day and help you understand how you become addicted and how to stop using drugs. Most centers have busy schedules for their clients of art, music and drama, physical fitness, classes in how to deal with drug addiction, group and marriage therapy, recreational activities, and many more. These are intense, 24/7 programs proven to have the highest rates of recovery from drug addiction.

You should look for a center that has a good track record in the treatment of marijuana addiction, because marijuana addiction has certain unique problems in that it causes a lack of motivation — even of the motivation to quit using drugs.

Once you return home, you continue in aftercare therapy, which might include more sessions with a private counselor and attending self-help meetings.

How Can I Tell If I Am Addicted to Synthetic Marijuana?

• Are you using synthetic marijuana more than three times a week?
• Do you feel ashamed or guilty about your use of synthetic marijuana?
• Have you tried unsuccessfully to quit using synthetic marijuana on your own?
• Do you think you spend too much time and money on synthetic marijuana?
• Do you have certain physical symptoms, such as a cough or lack of energy, that are caused by synthetic marijuana?
• Do you think that you would have more motivation and ambition if you did not smoke marijuana?
• Do your friends or family members criticize you because of your drug use?
• Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop using synthetic marijuana?
• Have you ever driven under the influence of synthetic marijuana or otherwise endangered yourself physically through drugs?
• Do you often miss school or work or find yourself unable to meet other obligations because you use drugs?

How Can I Tell if My Teenager is Addicted to Marijuana?

Look for secretive ways, such as shutting down a computer or cell phone conversation when you walk into a room. Your child may have dropped old friends and taken up with friends who seem less motivated to you. Your child’s grades may have fallen. You may find drug paraphernalia, such as bongs and lighters, in your child’s room that may smell of incense. Your child may sometimes seem “drunk” and impaired — silliness, giddiness, slurred speech, difficulty making sense, and loss of coordination. You may notice money missing, or that your child has sold off games and other things to get the funds to buy drugs.

References:

“Spice (Synthetic Marijuana),” The National Institute on Drug Abuse, see http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/spice-synthetic-marijuana

“Understanding the Spice Phenomenon,” The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction,” 34-page pamphlet, see http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/attachements.cfm/att_80086_EN_Spice%20Thematic%20paper%20—%20final%20version.pdf
“The Growing Buzz on Spice,” The Washington Post, July 5, 2010.
Sacco, Lisa, and Kristen Finklea. “Synthetic Drugs, Overview and Issues for Congress,” October 28, 2011, see http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42066.pdf
“Marijuana: Research Report Series, National Institute of Drug Abuse, see www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/rrmarijuana.pdf
“The Growing Buzz on Spice,” The Washington Post, July 5, 2010.
“Scientist’s Research Produces Dangerous High,” The Los Angeles Times, September 28, 2011.
Sacco, Lisa, and Kristen Finklea. “Synthetic Drugs, Overview and Issues for Congress,” October 28, 2011, see http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42066.pdf
“Understanding the Spice Phenomenon,” The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction,” 34-page pamphlet, see http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/attachements.cfm/att_80086_EN_Spice%20Thematic%20paper%20—%20final%20version.pdf
Sacco, Lisa, and Kristen Finklea. “Synthetic Drugs, Overview and Issues for Congress,” October 28, 2011, see http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42066.pdf
“Spice (Synthetic Marijuana),” The National Institute on Drug Abuse, see http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/spice-synthetic-marijuana
“Understanding the Spice Phenomenon,” The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction,” 34-page pamphlet, see http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/attachements.cfm/att_80086_EN_Spice%20Thematic%20paper%20—%20final%20version.pdf
O’Connor, Anahad. “Marijuana Use Growing Among Teenagers,” The New York Times, December 14, 2011.
“Synthetic Marijuana,” Official Information from the United States Food and Drug Administration, see http://www.drugs.com/synthetic-marijuana.html
“Spice (Synthetic Marijuana),” The National Institute on Drug Abuse, see http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/spice-synthetic-marijuana
“Penalties,” The United States Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Agency, see www.justice.gov/dea/agency/penalties.htm
Ferguson, Carol. “Mothers speak of horrifying effects of spice drug: ‘He throws up blood,'” Eyewitness News Published: Apr 29, 2013.
“National Synthetic Drug Takedown,” Drug Enforcement Agency News, July 26,2012, see http://www.justice.gov/dea/pubs/pressrel/pr072612.html
Assael, Shaun.”Twelve Auburn Players Failed Synthetic Pot Test,” ESPN,April 8, 2013, see http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/9135194/twelve-auburn-tigers-football-players-failed-synthetic-pot-tests
“K2 Spice,” The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, see http://www.drugfree.org/drug-guide/k2-spice
“Marijuana: Research Report Series, National Institute of Drug Abuse, see www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/rrmarijuana.pdf
“K2 Spice,” The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, see http://www.drugfree.org/drug-guide/k2-spice; see also “Understanding the Spice Phenomenon,” The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction,” 34-page pamphlet, see http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/attachements.cfm/att_80086_EN_Spice%20Thematic%20paper%20—%20final%20version.pdf
Freeman, Melissa MD and Selim Benbadis, MD. “A New Cause of Seizures,” The Comprehensive Epilepsy Program & Department of Neurology, University of South Florida & Tampa General Hospital, Reviewed: 3/19/2013.
Ferguson, Carol. “Mothers speak of horrifying effects of spice drug: ‘He throws up blood,'” Eyewitness News Published: Apr 29, 2013
“Understanding the Spice Phenomenon,” The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction,” 34-page pamphlet, see http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/attachements.cfm/att_80086_EN_Spice%20Thematic%20paper%20—%20final%20version.pdf
“Spice Fact Sheet,” The Michigan Community Department of Health, see http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdch/K2_Spice_-_General_Fact_Sheet_4.30.12_384319_7.pd
“Synthetic Drugs,” The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, see http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/ondcp-fact-sheets/synthetic-drugs-k2-spice-bath-salts
Salter, Jim. “Synthetic Drugs Send Thousands to ER,” The Associated Press and NBC News, April 6, 2011.
“The Growing Buzz on Spice,” The Washington Post, July 5, 2010.
“Cannabis,” The Mayo Clinic, see www.mayo.clinic.com/health/marijuana/
Sacco, Lisa, and Kristen Finklea. “Synthetic Drugs, Overview and Issues for Congress,” October 28, 2011, see http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42066.pdf
Freeman, Melissa MD and Selim Benbadis, MD. “A New Cause of Seizures,” The Comprehensive Epilepsy Program & Department of Neurology, University of South Florida & Tampa General Hospital, Reviewed: 3/19/2013.
Helge Müller, Wolfgang Sperling, Martin Köhrmann, Hagen B. Huttner, Johannes Kornhuber, Juan-Manuel Maler. The synthetic cannabinoid Spice as a trigger for an acute exacerbation of cannabis induced recurrent psychotic episodes. Schizophrenia Research, Volume 118, Issue 1 , Pages 309-310, May 2010
“Synthetic Designer Drugs Seized in D.E.A. Raids in 31 States,” The New York Times, July 26, 2012.
See “Synthetic Marijuana Blamed for 11,000 ER Visits,” NBC News, December 5, 2012; and “Synthetic Marijuana,” Official Information from the United States Food and Drug Administration, see http://www.drugs.com/synthetic-marijuana.html
“Synthetic Marijuana,” The American Association of Poison Control Centers, see http://www.aapcc.org
“Synthetic Marijuana,” Official Information from the United States Food and Drug Administration, see http://www.drugs.com/synthetic-marijuana.html
“Marijuana: Research Report Series, National Institute of Drug Abuse, see www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/rrmarijuana.pdf
“Understanding the Spice Phenomenon,” The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction,” 34-page pamphlet, see http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/attachements.cfm/att_80086_EN_Spice%20Thematic%20paper%20—%20final%20version.pdf
“The Growing Buzz on Spice,” The Washington Post, July 5, 2010.
“Understanding the Spice Phenomenon,” The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction,” 34-page pamphlet, see http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/attachements.cfm/att_80086_EN_Spice%20Thematic%20paper%20—%20final%20version.pdf
“National Synthetic Drug Takedown,” Drug Enforcement Agency News, July 26,2012, see http://www.justice.gov/dea/pubs/pressrel/pr072612.html
“Synthetic Marijuana,” The American Association of Poison Control Centers, see http://www.aapcc.org
“Monitoring the Future 2012 Study,” The United States Government, a study done by the University of Michigan, see www.monitoringthefuture.org
“Understanding the Spice Phenomenon,” The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction,” 34-page pamphlet, see http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/attachements.cfm/att_80086_EN_Spice%20Thematic%20paper%20—%20final%20version.pdf
O’Connor, Anahad. “Marijuana Use Growing Among Teenagers,” The New York Times, December 14, 2011.
“Cannabis,” The American Psychiatric Association, Criteria and Rational for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition.
“Marijuana: Research Report Series, National Institute of Drug Abuse, see www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/rrmarijuana.pdf
Gumbiner, Jann (PHD). “Is Marijuana Addictive?” Psychology Today, December 5, 2010.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, The TEDS Report (Treatment Entry Data Set Statistics on Drug Treatment Admissions, 2012.
O’Connor, Anahad. “Marijuana Use Growing Among Teenage

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