Signs & Symptoms of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Synthetic marijuana, also commonly known as K2 and spice, has become a very prominent topic in the media.

Understanding Synthetic Marijuana (K2)

Learn More About Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Within recent months, there have been a multitude of reports regarding hospitalizations, overdoses, and deaths that are the direct result of using synthetic marijuana. This toxic substance can be used by inhaling, ingesting, or smoking, and the highs that individuals receive from its use are said to last between one and three hours. Despite being marketed as a “safe alternative” to using other illegal drugs, synthetic marijuana is anything but safe. One of the most frightening aspects of this substance is the fact that no one truly knows for sure what chemical compounds are being used each time this drug is manufactured. Researchers state that the chemicals that are used do not remain consistent, so it is impossible to know what chemicals will be used in each batch. Therefore, whenever someone uses synthetic marijuana, he or she does not know what harmful substance is being placed into his or her body.


Statistics of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Despite the federal ban that was placed on the substance, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy synthetic marijuana is the second most frequently used drug amongst high school seniors, with marijuana being the first. Between January and June of 2014 alone, poison centers throughout the United States reported receiving close to 800 cases of exposure to synthetic marijuana. In March of 2014, over 100 people were treated for overdoses on this drug over the course of a mere two weeks in Louisiana. Additionally, over a five day period in May of this year, 120 people throughout the state of Texas overdosed on synthetic marijuana.

Causes and Risks

Causes and Risk Factors of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Due to the complicated and fluctuating nature of synthetic substances, there still needs to be much research done in order to provide more conclusive results on the causes and risk factors that lead an individual to start experimenting with synthetic marijuana and then to develop an addiction to the substance. The most commonly cited hypotheses, however, include the following:

Genetic: Addictions are believed to have a strong genetic component as addiction is a disease known to run in families. Individuals who have family members who struggle with substance abuse and addiction are at a higher risk of developing an addiction themselves, as opposed to those who do not have a similar family history.

Physical: There are currently scientific studies being done on the effects that synthetic marijuana has on an individual’s brain. Researchers have stated that the cannabinoid compounds that make up this substance act on the same cell receptors in the brain that THC (the primary psychoactive element of marijuana) does. Part of the hypothesis surrounding the effects of this substance, however, is that the composition of the chemicals in synthetic marijuana is believed to bond more strongly to cell receptors, which results in more powerful and less predictable results than regular marijuana.

Environmental: Professionals in the field believe that environmental factors can have a significant impact on whether or not a person will begin experimenting with substances like synthetic marijuana. Things such as suffering trauma, growing up in chaotic home environments, or being subjected to highly stressful situations on a regular basis can cause a person to turn to drugs as a means of coping.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Being of younger age (synthetic marijuana is said to be most popular among high school students)
  • Lack of parental involvement / poor parenting
  • Exposure to crime and/or violence
  • Peer pressure
  • Easy access to the drug
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Personal history of abusing other substances
  • Personal or family history of mental illness
  • Exposure to chaotic or hectic home, work, or school environments

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

As a result of the fact that the chemical compounds from which synthetic marijuana is made vary greatly, the different signs and symptoms that may indicate that a person is using this substance will vary as well. Examples of such signs and symptoms can include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Sudden, extreme episodes of hyperactivity alternating with sudden, extreme episodes of lethargy
  • Sudden, unprovoked, extreme angry outbursts
  • Sudden, unprovoked physical aggression
  • Irrational behavior that is grossly out of proportion to a person’s surroundings
  • Impaired mobility
  • Slurred or incoherent speech

Physical symptoms:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Vomiting
  • Panic attacks
  • Muscle spasms
  • Chest pains
  • Seizures
  • Reduced or elevated blood pressure

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Impaired judgment
  • Extreme confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Altered states of perception
  • Depersonalization
  • Derealization

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Emotional detachment
  • Psychosis
  • Alternating between excessively elevated and depressed moods
  • Excessive anxiety


Effects of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Due to the fact that, in comparison to other substances, synthetic marijuana is relatively new in terms of the prominence of its distribution and use, the DEA is reportedly still in the process of studying the drug’s long-term effects. However, the most tragic effect of synthetic marijuana use is death. Additional effects that may result from the chronic use of synthetic marijuana include:

  • Destruction of interpersonal relationships
  • Social and familial isolation
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Self-injury
  • Attempting / completing suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Synthetic Marijuana Addiction & Co-Occurring Disorders

There are many cases in which people who abuse substances are also suffering from some type of mental illness, and synthetic marijuana is no exception. Although not everyone who abuses drugs has a mental health disorder, those who do may use substances like synthetic marijuana as an unconscious means of self-medicating their symptoms. Examples of mental disorders that are known to co-occur with substance use include:

  • Polysubstance abuse
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal: When individuals have been chronically using synthetic marijuana, but then stop their use, they have the potential of experiencing a period of withdrawal. Believed to last for up to three days, symptoms of synthetic marijuana withdrawal can include:

  • Violent temper tantrums
  • Social isolation
  • Excessive anxiety
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Intense cravings
  • Feeling hungry, but incapable of keeping food down
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Other flu-like symptoms

Effects of synthetic marijuana overdose: There has recently been a number of reported incidents of people overdosing on synthetic marijuana. As such, it is imperative that overdosing on this drug be viewed as a medical emergency and treatment should be sought immediately. Symptoms that may indicate that an individual has overdosed on synthetic marijuana can include:

  • Derealization
  • Depersonalization
  • Disorientations
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack
  • Falling into a coma
  • Death

Getting help for my synthetic marijuana addiction at Sonora was the best decision I ever made.

– Logan M.