02 Jul Do Cannabis Users Also Use Synthetic Marijuana?
Synthetic marijuana is the widely used term for a substance that contains both plant material and any one of a number of artificial compounds designed to mimic the effects of marijuana/cannabis. Federal law bans the sale and possession of the best-known compounds used in the production of this artificial drug. In a study published in May 2014 in the journal Substance Abuse, a team of U.S. researchers investigated how common use of synthetic marijuana is among people who already use cannabis/marijuana. In addition, these researchers investigated the reasons cannabis/marijuana smokers also use a synthetic form of the drug.
Synthetic marijuana contains active ingredients called synthetic cannabinoids, which access the brain through the same chemical pathways used by THC and other active ingredients found in all forms of cannabis. Synthetic marijuana manufacturers spray these artificial cannabinoids, which typically have obscure laboratory names, on herbs or other plant matter and sell the resulting mixtures in intentionally misleading packaging that does not mention the products’ mind-altering effects. Previously identified names for synthetic marijuana products include K2, Spice and Skunk.
Some forms of synthetic marijuana have a drug effect roughly equivalent to that of THC; however, other forms of the drug produce a much more powerful effect. In addition, any particular synthetic marijuana product may contain additional ingredients or impurities that have a damaging impact on human health. Researchers have identified close to 200 active ingredients in various batches of synthetic cannabinoids. A federal law called the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act bans dozens of these compounds, and the vast majority of U.S. states also have laws on their books that ban certain synthetic cannabinoids. However, manufacturers of these drugs commonly attempt to evade the law by inventing chemically novel active ingredients not mentioned in current statutes.
Synthetic marijuana appeared in the U.S. in 2008. However, since this relatively recent introduction, use of the drug has grown substantially. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan track the year-to-year popularity of synthetic marijuana among teenagers through an ongoing project called Monitoring the Future. The most recent information from this project indicates that, of all illicit or illegal substances, the drug ranks second in popularity only to marijuana among younger and older high school students. In addition, synthetic marijuana is the third-most popular illicit or illegal substance among eighth graders.
How Many Cannabis/Marijuana Users?
In the study published in Substance Abuse, researchers from Columbia University, the University of Virginia and two other institutions used a small-scale project to estimate the number of cannabis/marijuana users who also use synthetic marijuana and determine the motivations for synthetic drug intake in these individuals. All told, 42 adults took part in the study; all of these participants used phone interviews to submit information on their typical patterns of cannabis use, synthetic marijuana use and cigarette use, as well as information on their reasons for synthetic marijuana use.
Almost all of the study participants used both cannabis/marijuana and cigarettes, and 86 percent of the participants used cannabis/marijuana at least five days a week. The vast majority of study enrollees knew about synthetic marijuana, and 50 percent described themselves as past users of the drug. In addition, 24 percent of the enrollees described themselves as current synthetic marijuana users. Typical reasons expressed for involvement in synthetic marijuana use included a desire to evade the detection of drug use when taking a urine test and an interest in having a different, but not completely unfamiliar drug experience. Many of the study participants continued their intake of synthetic marijuana after learning of the passage of federal law that prohibits this practice.
The researchers also asked the participants to describe the side effects they experienced while using synthetic marijuana. Common examples of these side effects included an unusually anxious state of mind, a decline in mental clarity, a decline in saliva levels and headaches. The researchers concluded that the current and past synthetic marijuana users did not have any demographic characteristics (age, gender, racial/ethnic background, etc.) that differed substantially from the study participants who did not have a past or current history of using the drug. In addition, they could find no other group traits that consistently differentiated the cannabis/marijuana users who also used synthetic marijuana from the cannabis/marijuana users with no history of synthetic marijuana intake.
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