23 Feb What Happens When People with Schizophrenia Use Synthetic Marijuana?
Synthetic marijuana is the collective name for a group of chemicals, called synthetic cannabinoids, which roughly mimic the drug effects of the cannabis/marijuana active ingredient THC. These illegal or illicit substances are sometimes far stronger than THC and can produce severe, unexpected and potentially fatal side effects. In a study published in August 2014 in the journal Dual Diagnosis, a group of Slovenian researchers explored the potential impact of synthetic marijuana on the psychological health of people affected by the debilitating mental illness schizophrenia. These researchers concluded that synthetic cannabinoids have a harmful impact that varies from person to person.
Synthetic cannabinoids were originally created in legitimate laboratories by scientists exploring the chemical structure of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). The substances produced in these laboratories go by obscure chemical names such as HU-210 and JWH-018. Synthetic marijuana is a mixture of at least one synthetic cannabinoid and herbs or other plant material intended to mimic the appearance of marijuana or normally harmless substances like potpourri. In the U.S., the first reports on the street use of this relatively new drug emerged in 2008.
Although synthetic marijuana is generally intended to mimic the effects of naturally grown marijuana, the synthetic cannabinoids contained in any given batch of the drug sometimes far exceed the potency of THC. Use of synthetic marijuana can trigger significantly intensified versions of “desired” marijuana drug effects such as mood elevation and sensory alteration, as well as intensified versions of unwanted and dangerous marijuana drug effects such as paranoia, profound anxiousness and the delusional thoughts and hallucinations normally associated with the highly dysfunctional mental state called psychosis. Other seriously negative outcomes associated with the use of synthetic marijuana include the development of addiction symptoms and potentially lethal changes in cardiac health.
Schizophrenia is classically associated with the onset of debilitating symptoms of psychosis that drastically reduce an affected individual’s ability to maintain a clear mental reference to ongoing reality. Additional potential symptoms of the disorder include unusually disrupted or disordered thought patterns, an unusual excess or lack of body movement, a lack of emotional affect when talking, an inability to experience pleasure, an inability to make or follow through on plans, short-term memory problems and problems exercising the mental skills required for logical thinking and decision-making.
Schizophrenia has a known association with substance abuse. In people diagnosed with the disorder, consumption of marijuana, cocaine or amphetamines can lead to a substantial worsening of existing symptoms. Although marijuana use does not cause schizophrenia, habitual marijuana smokers are statistically more likely to develop the disorder than the rest of the population. In addition, substance use/abuse can significantly interfere with the effectiveness of treatment programs designed to help people affected by schizophrenia.
Impact of Synthetic Marijuana Use
In the study published in Dual Diagnosis, researchers from Slovenia’s University Clinical Center Maribor used an assessment of four individuals hospitalized for schizophrenia treatment to explore the potential effects of synthetic marijuana use on the symptoms of schizophrenia. All of these individuals were longtime sufferers of the disorder with an extensive record of prior hospitalization. Each of the patients had obtained and used the same batch of synthetic marijuana while in treatment; the researchers later identified the synthetic cannabinoid contained in the batch as a substance called AM-2201.
After observing their patients, the researchers concluded that, for each individual, the main consequence of exposure to synthetic marijuana was the development of new, previously unencountered symptoms of psychosis. Generally speaking, use of the drug did not make the patients’ existing psychosis symptoms any worse. However, use of synthetic marijuana did contribute to intensified problems with anxiety and mood swings.
The study’s authors stress the fact that, despite the general similarities in the impact of synthetic marijuana use, each patient had a specific reaction profile that differed from the reactions of the others in important ways. This is notable since all four of the patients involved in the study were exposed to the same synthetic cannabinoid. The authors note that a number of factors may help explain the clearly individualized reaction to the drug among people with schizophrenia. These factors include the specific schizophrenia symptoms present in any given person and the effects of the specific medications used to treat any given person, as well as the impact of personal details unrelated to the presence of schizophrenia. The study’s authors stress the fact that no one knows what effect synthetic marijuana use has on the long-term course of schizophrenia or other related conditions.
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