Causes & Effects of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Understanding Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Learn About Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Synthetic marijuana, which is also known as spice or K2, typically appears in the form of dried plant material that has been coated with various psychoactive chemical compounds. These chemicals act on the same receptors in the brain that are sensitive to traditional marijuana, inducing feelings of euphoria and relaxation when the drug is ingested. Originally marketed as a “safe” and “natural” alternative to traditional marijuana, synthetic marijuana is in reality anything but safe. Since synthetic marijuana manufacturers are constantly trying to stay ahead of law enforcement, they often alter the formulation of their brands of synthetic marijuana. The end result is that a user of the drug never quite knows what chemicals the manufacturer has used, and so he or she cannot predict the effects that the drug will have on him or her. Synthetic marijuana is dangerous and has even caused a number of fatalities, but fortunately, professional help is available for individuals who are struggling with an addiction to this potent drug.


Synthetic Marijuana Abuse Statistics

Because synthetic marijuana is a relatively new substance, little research has been done to assess its effects and prevalence. However, a 2012 report by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) found that synthetic marijuana was linked to more than 11,400 emergency room visits in 2010. Three-quarters of these visits involved people between the ages of 12 and 29, and more than three-quarters were also men. Poison control centers reported that midway through 2015, they already had received nearly 4,400 reports of people suffering from negative effects, which is a sharp increase from the 3,700 total reports in 2014.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Although synthetic marijuana is a relatively new drug, extensive research details the risk factors for substance abuse involving cannabinoids, which is the family of drugs to which both natural marijuana and synthetic marijuana belong. Some of these risk factors include the following:

Genetic: Heritability strongly affects an individual’s risk of abusing synthetic marijuana. A person who is born to parents who are vulnerable to synthetic marijuana abuse will also have a higher risk of abuse of the drug.

Environmental: Environmental risk factors also play a role in determining an individual’s risk of abusing synthetic marijuana. These risk factors include poor academic performance, tobacco use, instability or abuse in one’s family, family history of substance use disorder, low socioeconomic status, and ease of access to spice.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal history of substance use disorder
  • Personal history of conduct disorder
  • Family history of substance use disorder
  • Ready access to synthetic marijuana
  • Poor academic performance
  • Associating with individuals who abuse spice
  • Low socioeconomic status

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Although synthetic marijuana is a relatively new drug, it affects the brain in similar ways as older and better-understood drugs such as natural marijuana. However, because the formulation of the drug is constantly changing, it can be difficult to predict the effects that it will have on any one individual. That being said, the signs and symptoms listed below can be indicators that an individual is abusing synthetic marijuana:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Using synthetic marijuana in situations where doing so is dangerous (for example, while driving)
  • Not keeping up with responsibilities at home or work because of synthetic marijuana use
  • Inability to reduce one’s use of synthetic marijuana
  • Exceeding one’s intended amount or frequency of synthetic marijuana use
  • Spending excessive time and energy obtaining, using, and recovering from synthetic marijuana use
  • Continuing to use synthetic marijuana despite being aware of significant physical or psychological problems that are related to use of the drug

Physical symptoms:

  • Experiencing strong symptoms of discomfort during attempts to abstain from use
  • Red eyes
  • Needing increasing amounts of synthetic marijuana over time in order to achieve a high
  • Increased appetite (sometimes referred to as “the munchies”)
  • Dry mouth
  • Rapid heartbeat

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Problems with memory
  • Problems with cognitive processes
  • Feeling cravings or intense desire for the drug
  • Changes in one’s perceptions

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Loss of motivation
  • Changes in one’s social circles
  • Apathy
  • Depression
  • Agitation or aggression
  • Experiencing repeated interpersonal difficulties and conflict as a result of synthetic marijuana use


Effects of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Synthetic marijuana has proven itself to be a dangerous drug. Some of the effects of abuse of this drug include:

  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Conflict in relationships
  • Respiratory illness
  • Onset or worsening of mental health symptoms
  • Polysubstance use, addiction, or chemical dependency
  • Apathy or loss of motivation
  • Potential job loss and subsequent financial difficulties
  • Injury as a result of accident
  • Poor performance at work
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Organ damage
  • Suicide attempts

Dual Diagnosis

Risk of Dual Diagnosis Among Individuals Who Abuse Synthetic Marijuana

The simultaneous presence of more than one mental or behavioral health disorder is commonly referred to as dual diagnosis. Individuals who abuse synthetic marijuana may be at risk for dual diagnosis. The following are among the many disorders that have been associated with synthetic marijuana abuse:

  • Conduct disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Depressive disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Other substance use disorders

The disorders listed above can complicate your efforts to stop abusing synthetic marijuana. This is why it is so important to get professional care at a center that can fully assess your needs and provide dual diagnosis programming if necessary. Comprehensive care that includes services for dual diagnosis can be vital to your recovery efforts.

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Synthetic Marijuana Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal: if a person abstains from space after a period of heavy or long-term use, he or she may experience a series of uncomfortable and painful symptoms known as withdrawal. The effects of withdrawal can include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Abdominal pain
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sweating
  • Disturbing dreams
  • Insomnia
  • Aggression
  • Restlessness
  • Depressed mood
  • Headache

Effects of synthetic marijuana overdose: Unfortunately, individuals who abuse synthetic marijuana are also at risk of overdosing on it. An overdose occurs when a person ingests more of the drug than his or her body can safely metabolize or excrete. The effects of a synthetic marijuana overdose can include:

  • Agitation
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Hallucination
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Reduced blood flow to the heart
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion


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