Dangers of Synthetic MarijuanaFake pot is easy to find both online and from gas stations and convenience stores. No prescription is necessary as many brands get marketed as a harmless natural substance, with labels claiming they are either an herbal incense or a natural smoking blend.

There is a serious loophole in current drug regulations and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) can’t keep track of all the so-called natural herbal formulas entering the market. By some estimates, there are over 100 chemical variations of synthetic cannabinoids, with only about 50 of them now outlawed in the USA1. New chemical variants are being created at such an alarming rate that the FDA is having an extremely difficult time keeping up.

What is Synthetic Marijuana?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) “Synthetic cannabinoids refer to a growing number of man-made mind-altering chemicals that are either sprayed on dried, shredded plant material so they can be smoked (herbal incense) or sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes and other devices (liquid incense).”2

The plant base is usually inert plant material such as common herbs or even tea leaves, but the finished product is far from harmless. The chemicals sprayed on the plant base can range from 2 to 57 different ingredients, making it almost impossible to determine the actual composition of each batch of faux weed.

The main danger in spraying the chemicals on the plant base is there is no consistency in application. This means there is no way to know the exact amount of synthetic cannabinoids present in each batch of synthetic marijuana. One month a certain brand may have been safe to smoke but if the next batch has a higher concentration of chemicals this could result in a trip to the emergency room.

Misleading Marketing Tactics

Synthetic marijuana is often labeled and marketed as a type of herbal smoking blend that may have some people believing it is a natural, plant-based substance. There are many names that synthetic marijuana goes by – what is labeled as herbal incense and not meant for human consumption – is probably some type of fake pot. The incense sold in small, colorful foil packets at local convenience stores and neighborhood gas stations is more than likely synthetic marijuana.

Finding synthetic marijuana isn’t that difficult. Fake weed is marketed under a variety of names – a quick search reveals over 600 street names including3:

  • K2
  • AK-47
  • Spice
  • Potpourri
  • Scooby Snax
  • Kush
  • Blaze
  • Nice Guy
  • Purple Haze
  • Moon Rocks

The list of names goes on and on. Fake weed is cheap, is readily available, and doesn’t require a doctor’s prescription to purchase.

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Why Synthetic Marijuana is Dangerous

Synthetic Marijuana is a serious problem in the United States. Recently, during a 72-hour period in Minneapolis, EMTs and doctors dealt with over 40 overdoses due to synthetic marijuana and that total grew to over 60 by the end of the week. Fortunately, none of the cases were fatal but patients exhibited symptoms ranging from violent behavior, hallucinations and dangerously low heart rates.4

People buy the fake version because it is cheaper, easier to get and is many times stronger than the real thing. Some people believe the synthetic version won’t show up on drug screenings so they can continue to get high and still pass a drug test. According to a study conducted by SAMHSA, most patients (76%) treated for synthetic marijuana overdose are released from the hospital with no follow-up care either in the form of a referral to detox, admission to a treatment center or admission to the hospital.5

An overdose of fentanyl, or other opioids, can be treated with Narcan. However, right now there isn’t an antidote available for synthetic marijuana as the chemical formula in each brand is so variable and unknown. So, if someone overdoses on synthetic marijuana, the only recourse is to let the drug run its course until it works its way out of the system.

Michael DeLeon, founder of Steered Straight Inc. and National Recovery Advocate for Transformations Treatment Center says, “Marijuana is no longer your good ole fashion “Woodstock weed”; it is now generation X, Y, Z weed. There are synthetics mimicking every drug, and foreign cartels and syndicates are fueled to push these poisons into our communities. These audacious, powerhouse synthetics are making their way into the hands of our youth.”6

Synthetic Marijuana Side Effects

A whole range of side effects have been associated with the use of synthetic marijuana and these effects can often last for hours. Because each batch or brand of fake pot is different it can be almost impossible for doctors and other emergency medical people to know how to treat someone when a case presents in the emergency room. Another danger of using synthetic weed is that some people experience irreversible side effects such as permanent kidney, heart or brain damage.

Here are just a few of the many symptoms and health problems associated with synthetic marijuana:

  • Reduced or elevated heart rate
  • Reduced or elevated blood pressure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Stroke
  • Paralysis
  • Death

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has this to say about the chemicals present in synthetic marijuana, “These chemicals are called cannabinoids because they act on the same brain cell receptors as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active ingredient in marijuana. However, hundreds of known synthetic cannabinoid chemicals and THC are different chemicals. In fact, synthetic cannabinoids may affect the brain in different and unpredictable ways compared to marijuana.”7

Habitual users can become addicted to fake pot, and show the symptoms of withdrawal when they stop smoking. Please reach out to Transformations when looking for help for someone struggling with addiction.

  1. Spice Addiction Support. List of Known Synthetic Cannabinoids.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drug Facts; What are Synthetic Cannabinoids?
  3. Spice Addiction Support. 700 Street Names for Synthetic Marijuna.
  4. StarTribune At Least 60 Overdosed on Synthetic Marijuana Last Week in Minneapolis
  5. SAMHSA The Dawn Report, Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits Involving Synthetic Cannabinoids:
  6. DeLeon, Michael. “Our Impending Synthetic Storm.” The Sober World, December 2016, p. 20. Print.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Synthetic Cannabinoids
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