| Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services

Synthetic Marijuana Use May be Hard to Spot

Mar 19, 2012 - Apr 19, 2012 | 09:12 AM - 06:00 AM
By Kelley McCall, AP
As use of synthetic versions of marijuana such as "K2," "Spice," and "Blaze" becomes more common, a growing number of teens are showing up in hospital emergency rooms where physicians are unfamiliar with symptoms caused by the dangerous substances, says a new report.

A blend of plant and herbal materials that have been sprayed with chemicals, synthetic marijuana "is still a relatively new drug, and when we started seeing cases, we realized there was very little information available in the medical literature," says Joanna Cohen, an emergency medicine physician at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and lead author of the report, published today in Pediatrics.

The three case studies of teens and young adults highlight "telltale signs" of synthetic marijuana abuse. These include excessive sweating, agitation, inability to speak, aggression and restlessness, in addition to the "euphoric and psychoactive effects" commonly associated with marijuana use.

Given the drug's expanding use, "it's important to share the information we have with other doctors and help parents and schools be on the lookout" for these symptoms, which require immediate medical attention, says Cohen.

A National Institute on Drug Abuse report released in November found that nearly one in nine high school seniors had gotten high on synthetic marijuana compounds in the past year, second only to the number of teens who used marijuana.

Often packed as potpourri or herbal incense and sold in convenience stores, synthetic marijuana emerged as a problem in 2009, and quickly grew in popularity, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Its centers report handling 6,959 related calls in 2011, more than double the number received in 2010.

As federal lawmakers consider a bill to ban sales of fake marijuana, at least 39 states have already taken steps to do so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Earlier this month the federal Drug Enforcement Administration extended its ban on five chemicals used to make the drug. Its one-year ban, set to expire soon, puts the substances under Schedule I classification, the most restrictive under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I drugs are found to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical uses.

Cohen says synthetic marijuana "usually does not show up on routine urine drug screens, so comprehensive lab work is necessary to confirm use."

"Most important for parents and schools is the recognition of the signs of drug use in general and preventing repeat use," she says. While the long-term consequences may include memory loss and psychosis, "we don't really understand the long-term effects of this and other drugs on a young brain as it's developing."

Retrieved from USA Today on March 19, 2012