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What is Synthetic Marijuana

Synthetic marijuana (synthetic cannabinoids) has been making headlines lately. You may have heard of it being called K2, Spice, Voodoo, Mojo, Skunk, Mood Rocks, fake weed or a number of other names. So what is synthetic marijuana?

Initially, synthetic cannabinoids were designed by legitimate researchers in the US and around the world who were looking to explore the function and structure of cannabinoid receptors. There are several hundred synthetic cannabinoids in existence. They all stimulate the cannabinoid type 1 receptors (CB1) that provide the high, just like the active component in natural marijuana, THC. However, they do so with differing intensities and for differing periods of time.

The THC molecule in natural marijuana partially activates two cannabinoid receptors in the brain, one that causes a high and one that inhibits the immune system. In contrast, synthetic cannabinoids fully activate both receptors, which leads to unpredictable effects. Moreover, there is no way to know which synthetic cannabinoids are actually in the product someone purchased.

Why is Synthetic Marijuana so dangerous?

At first, synthetic cannabinoids were knockoffs of the ones described in medical literature by pharmaceutical researchers, which at least gave some idea of their side effects. But today’s second generation of synthetic cannabinoids are much less understood. They are estimated to be 11 to 1,000 times more potent than marijuana.

Synthetic marijuana is mass-produced overseas and shipped to US in bulk, and then dissolved and mixed with dried vegetation (which absorbs the liquid). However, the process is very imprecise resulting in widely varying doses even within the same batch. In addition to the plant material used being potentially contaminated with heavy metals, pesticides, mold or salmonella, there is also a risk that the product was adulterated with other chemicals ranging from opioids to rat poison. Most worrisome was a blood thinner that triggered an FDA warning back in July 2018 after hundreds of people in 10 states suffered severe bleeding that lead to several deaths.

Side effects of synthetic marijuana use include, but are not limited to, retching/vomiting, loss of consciousness, trouble breathing, anxiety, hallucination, agitation/paranoia, psychosis, seizures, muscle/kidney damage, severe bleeding and death.

What can we do about it?

The chemicals used in synthetic marijuana have no medical benefit and carry a high potential for abuse, and so authorities have made it illegal to sell, buy, or possess some of these chemicals. However, manufacturers try to sidestep these laws by changing the chemical formulas in their mixtures just enough, and then label the products with statements like "not for human consumption."

Public health personnel, teachers, and parents need to educate adults, students, and their children about the inherent risks of synthetic marijuana. This education includes talking about what it is, the poor manufacturing process, and the dangerous side effects associated with it. PSA Worldwide offers educational tools to help get the conversation started about the dangers of synthetic marijuana and other abused substances.

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