Synthetic Marijuana Symptoms & Effects

Synthetic marijuana, also known as spice or K2, is a dangerous mix of chemicals and dried plant matter that was originally designed to mimic the effects of natural marijuana. Until recently, spice was easy and legal to purchase, but because it contains a number dangerous chemicals, it is now classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as a controlled substance and is illegal to sell, purchase, or possess. Drug manufacturers have attempted to circumvent DEA restrictions by experimenting with new and different chemical compounds to include in spice, but these new chemicals can at times be even more harmful than the drug’s original formulation.

Synthetic marijuana is a potent psychoactive drug that provides a high similar to that of natural marijuana including experiences of euphoria, relaxation, and altered sensory perception. Spice use can be a profoundly negative experience, as certain people who use spice experience strong hallucinations and feelings of fear, anxiety, and paranoia. It is important to note that one cannot always be sure what kind of effect the drug will have on him or her. Because spice manufacturers are continually altering the composition of their products and adding different assortments of chemicals, a user cannot be certain of the effects the drug will have on him or her. Given that spice is a relatively new drug, researchers are still working to understand the extent of the harmful effects spice may have on a user’s health.

Because of its ability to induce euphoria and relaxation, synthetic marijuana is highly addictive, and because it is constantly being altered and reformulated, it is also extremely dangerous. Overcoming an addiction can be difficult to do on one’s own, but thankfully there are treatment options available to help people overcome a synthetic marijuana addiction.

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Statistics

Despite being a relative newcomer on the drug scene, spice has earned a well-deserved reputation for being dangerous. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2010, there were 11,406 spice-related emergency room visits among people aged 12-29.

Not only is spice dangerous, but it is also common. NIDA has found that spice is the second most common illegal drug used by young adults, superseded only by natural marijuana. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), poison control centers received over 2600 calls regarding exposure to spice in 2013. As of August 2015, that number has almost doubled to nearly 5100 calls.

Causes and Risk Factors for Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

There are many intertwining causes of an addiction to synthetic marijuana, but the most influential of these causes are discussed below:

Genetic: Researchers have found that substance use disorders tend to run in families. In other words, a person is more likely to develop a substance use disorder when his or her family members also abuse substances.

Environmental: In addition to genetic vulnerabilities to addiction that one may have inherited from one’s parents, a person’s environment plays a role in determining his or her risk of abusing substances. People whose peers abuse spice are more likely to abuse the drug as well, as are people who have experienced traumatic events or severe chronic stress. Having poor coping skills is also a risk factor, as is being in an environment where spice is easily accessible.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Being of younger age
  • Exposure to traumatic events
  • Experiencing physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Living in poverty
  • Family history of mental illness or substance use
  • Personal history of mental illness or other substance use
  • Exposure to substance use

Signs and Symptoms of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

While there are a number of signs and symptoms of synthetic marijuana abuse, the chemical makeup of the drug can be quite varied, possibly resulting in different sets of symptoms among different users at different times. The following, however, are some common signs and symptoms that may suggest synthetic marijuana abuse is present in a person’s life:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Poor job performance
  • Unexplained absences from work
  • Sudden angry outbursts
  • Owning items used to prepare and ingest synthetic marijuana
  • Secretiveness or deception about one’s whereabouts or activities
  • Being combative with others

Physical symptoms:

  • Periods of excessive energy
  • Loss of feeling in extremities
  • Muscle spasms or tics
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Panic attacks
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Changes in blood pressure

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Delirium
  • Poor memory
  • Feeling as though one’s environment or one’s body is not real
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Irritability or agitation
  • Anxious or depressed feelings
  • Fluctuations in mood
  • Apathy
  • Feeling detached from one’s emotions
  • Withdrawal from others
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Little research has been conducted on the long-term effects of synthetic marijuana abuse simply because the drug has not been in existence for very long. However, those who use it can experience profoundly harmful and sometimes life-threatening consequences, such as:

  • Stress within or demise of relationships
  • Reduction in occupational performance
  • Job loss
  • Financial strain
  • Social isolation
  • Symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations or delusions
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Organ damage
  • Overdose
  • Death, either from overdose or suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Tragically, people who abuse spice sometimes struggle with other co-occurring mental health disorders. Some of these disorders may include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Other substance use disorders

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal: Though spice is a relatively new drug, there is evidence to suggest that people who attempt to cease using the drug experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can include:

  • Emotional outbursts
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Anxiety
  • Changes in body temperature
  • Cravings for synthetic marijuana
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling nauseous after eating
  • Experiencing flu-like symptoms

Effects of synthetic marijuana overdose: Those who use synthetic marijuana, like nearly all people who abuse substances, are continually under the threat of experiencing an overdose. The situation is especially dire for people who use spice because the composition of the drug is constantly changing as manufacturers experiment with different chemical combinations. Someone who uses spice and is experiencing the following symptoms should receive medical attention immediately, as these signs infer that a person is experiencing an overdose:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Depersonalization or derealization
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Seizure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
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