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Synthetic marijuana emergencies spike throughout U.S.

By Oscar Pascual |

Abuse of synthetic marijuana use is becoming a national problem.

Between January 1, 2015 and May 10, 2015, use of synthetic cannabis — chemicals meant to mimic THC sprayed on plant material, sold under brands like “Spice” — led to 2,949 trips to poison control centers across the U.S., according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC).

While reports have hovered around 250-350 calls per month, exposures skyrocketed in April with 1,512 cases were reported — likely due to people celebrating the 4/20 stoner’s holiday with fake pot.

“Our research shows that people are playing Russian roulette with their lives, because only the chemist creating the synthetic cannabinoid really knows what is in it,” said Eric Wish, director of the Coordinating Center for the National Drug Early Warning System, in an AAPCC release. “We have found very different metabolites in different sites across the country, and even in the same site over time.”

Marketed as a legal alternative to natural cannabis, synthetic marijuana — which can go by several names such as Spice and K2 — can often induce hazardous and dangerous side effects that will never happen when using actual marijuana, such as severe agitation, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, racing heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, tremors, seizures, hallucinations, paranoid behavior, unresponsiveness, and even death.

“We’re greatly concerned by the rise in calls to poison centers regarding synthetic cannabinoids,” said Amy Wolkin, chief of the CDC’s Health Studies Branch, in an AAPCC news release. “The perception that these drugs are harmless is dangerous. People and hospitals need to be aware of the potential harm they can do.”

In comparison, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that the rate of natural marijuana use has steadied after years several years of increase, while the perceived risk from using cannabis has decreased.

In fact, NIDA has also recently conceded that marijuana could also provide health benefits.

Natural marijuana’s legalization efforts may have provided an opening for synthetic pot, however.

“Synthetic cannabinoids are a growing public health risk ― made even more dangerous by the widespread misconception that they are safe and legal,” SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde said to Medscape. “These injury reports compel us to get the word out to all segments of the community ― especially youth ― that these products can cause significant harm.”

When it comes to weed, the choice is simple: there’s nothing like the real thing.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons