Synthetic Cannabis: Is It Safe?

Spice, K2, Crazy Clown, Mr. Smiley, Scooby Snax, and Blueberry Haze are just a few of the dozens of brand names for what is generically referred to as herbal smoking blends, potpourri, legal bud, fake pot or synthetic cannabis. Over the last few years these synthetic drugs have become the second most-popular recreational drugs among high school students and young adults because these smoking blends can easily be purchased at convenience stores, gas stations and online. Also, many synthetic drugs do not show up in standard drug tests. The names sound innocent enough, and the advertisements claim their products are “natural” and “legal,” insinuating that they are safe. However, don’t be fooled by these claims. “Natural” and “legal” are not synonyms for “safe.”

Is it really dangerous? YES!

Classifying these smoking blends as synthetic cannabis is dangerously misleading. These smoking blend products are not any form of marijuana. The only commonality is that both affect cannabinoid brain receptors. Cannabinoids are a class of chemical compounds that act on cannabinoid-receptor cells located mainly in the brain. These receptor proteins include the endocannabinoids (produced naturally in the body), the phytocannabinoids (found in cannabis and some other plants), and synthetic cannabinoids (manufactured chemically). The cannabinoid receptors are found on neurons in areas of the brain involved in memory, concentration, perception and movement. When the receptors are activated, they interfere with the normal functioning of these brain areas. This is where the similarities end. The synthetic cannabinoids can be many times more potent than marijuana because of the various chemicals used and the different ways they bind to the brain’s receptors. Synthetic cannabinoids can also affect serotonin and other receptors in the brain that can cause delirium, seizures, severe psychosis, brain damage, strokes and even death.

These “premium herbal smoking blends” are a mixture of various plant clippings and manufactured chemicals. Many of the chemicals come from Chinese factories and are in no way regulated or standardized. These designer chemicals are dissolved in a solvent and sprayed onto the dried plant matter. They are made in such large quantities that packages from the same batch can contain varying amounts of the designer chemical. When one chemical is designated as a controlled substance, making it illegal to buy, sell or possess, manufacturers of these prohibited chemicals substitute different chemical compounds to take its place. To date, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has discovered more than 400 varieties of synthetic cannabinoids. Using these designer smoking blends is like playing Russian roulette. One dose may relax you, and the next dose may kill you.

Emergency Room Visits and Synthetic Cannabis

Thousands of young adults end up in emergency rooms each year from synthetic drug use. Seventy-five percent of patients are between the ages of 12 and 29. Poison Control Centers reported symptoms from users of the synthetic blends to include rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, profuse sweating, confusion, and hallucinations. In some cases the blends raise the blood pressure and cause reduced blood supply to the heart, which can cause heart attacks. If you know or suspect someone has taken one of the synthetic blends and has any of the above symptoms, call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222. Poison centers are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for poisoning emergencies and general informational calls. Center experts can help you decide whether someone can be treated at home, or should be taken to a hospital. Dial 9-1-1 immediately if someone stops breathing, collapses or has a seizure. If you have a problem with addiction, seek advise from a health professional.

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