Synthetic Marijuana Sending Teens and Young Adults to ER

Once legally available in gas stations and convenience stores, synthetic cannabinoids (or synthetic marijuana) are landing more teens and young adults in Emergency Rooms across the country, according to a new report published in the April 2012 issue of the journal Pediatrics.  Synthetic types of marijuana, commonly known as blaze, spice, and K2, have a similar but more serious affect on the body.  Beyond typical signs and symptoms of intoxication, synthetic marijuana symptoms include restlessness and agitation, diaphoresis, catatonia, extreme aggressions, and the inability to speak.

An example of a synthetic marijuana product

The problem for ER doctors assessing patients is there is little information on this relatively new drug.  If a doctor does not accurately and quickly diagnose the symptoms associated with the effects of synthetic marijuana, they may not realize the patient needs immediate medical attention.  When doctors test for marijuana, synthetic marijuana does not show up as a positive result, leading to more comprehensive lab work to confirm drug use.  

Three case studies reported in the Pediatrics article show various symptoms as well as physical and mental states of the patients.  From a 16-year-old girl who was "catatonic" with her eyes open, but not responding, to an 18-year-old boy who was agitated and sweating profusely, and a 16-year-old boy hallucinating with a "frozen face" and slow speech, the symptoms are not easily and readily associated with synthetic marijuana intoxication.  However, researchers share these case studies to show examples to other doctors of the different symptoms to look for.

While the effects may be short-lived, long-term risks to teens and young adults, including memory loss and psychosis are concerns.  Hillcrest Medical Center Emergency Services Director, Maribeth Leone, BSN warns, “Because the drug is new, while we know and can see the effects of the drug we do not know any long term problems.  This is something to watch for and offer to educate staff”

Synthetic marijuana is a mix of plants or products of plant origin which have been sprayed with chemicals to produce toxicity.  In one year alone (2010-2011), the American Association of Poison Control Centers received 4500 calls reporting problems from the use of synthetic marijuana.   

39 states including Oklahoma have passed legislation banning the use of synthetic marijuana.

Reference:  April 2012 Pediatrics: “Clinical Presentation of Intoxication Due to Synthetic Cannabinoids”