An increase in synthetic marijuana use among teens

Synthetic versions of marijuana are sending some teens to the hospital, says a case report to be released in the April issue of Pediatrics.

The drugs, created in uncontrolled settings and sold in gas stations and convenience stores, consist of herbs sprayed with chemicals that mimic the


psychoactive properties of THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. That’s the main active chemical in marijuana.

“More teens are coming to the emergency room (ER) for complaints related to smoking synthetic cannabinoids, says Phoenix Children’s Hospital emergency physician Dawn Barcellona, MD.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 4,500 calls involving synthetic cannabinoid toxicity from 2010 to 2011.

Since the drugs are not detected by a standard rapid urine drug screen, says Barcellona, an AzAAP member, it is difficult to diagnose acute synthetic cannabinoid intoxication right away.

A comprehensive drug screen can detect synthetic cannabinoids, adds Barcellona, but these results are not available immediately. Some say that is what adds to the popularity of the drug among youth.

Treatment is limited to supportive care.

Synthetic marijuana, known by names such as “K2,” “Spice,” and “Blaze,” produce euphoric and psychoactive effects similar to those associated with marijuana.

But experts say that there are additional effects from synthetic marijuana that may be particularly dangerous.

In addition to restlessness and agitation, young people have presented in the emergency department with diaphoresis (excessive sweating associated with shock), catatonia, inability to speak, or unusual aggression.

The AAP case report describes telltale signs of abuse and discusses treatment options for patients.

Although the immediate effects appear to be of short duration, health care professionals worry about the potential for long-term effects, particularly in adolescents.

Since this is a fairly new drug, says Barcellona, more studies need to be done to determine any long-term effects.

Guiding Good Choices: Learn more about parent workshops sponsored by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, Arizona Affiliate


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