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Dangers of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

marijuana legalizationThe words “not for human consumption” are printed on most packages of synthetic marijuana. If users knew what these products could do to their health, perhaps they’d take this term just a little more seriously. In fact, reading about these products can be a hair-raising experience, as the consequences of these drugs can be quite serious, and the misery can last long after the high has faded away.

A Popular Product

Synthetic marijuana products are typically sold in small, foil-lined packets. A user who rips into one of these packets might be greeted with a shower of green leaves and stems, and that little pile of organic material might look a lot like marijuana. Unlike marijuana, however, the active part of this product isn’t the leaves and stems of the plants sold. Instead, it’s the slippery coating that covers this organic material that gives synthetic marijuana its punch.In the past, users of this drug could buy it almost anywhere, including gas stations and convenience stores. Since the products didn’t contain marijuana, they weren’t considered illegal and many people considered them safe as a result. Many of these users learned the truth when they took the drug for the first time, however, and some of the changes they experienced were so alarming that users were frightened enough to ask for help. In 2011 alone, 6,968 calls were made to poison control centers regarding synthetic marijuana, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, proving just how popular this drug was, at one time, and how often people needed medical attention due to their drug use.

Short-Term Changes

The chemicals included in synthetic marijuana can vary, but most seem to work directly on the central nervous system.

Within minutes, people who take these drugs can experience:

  • A galloping heart
  • High blood pressure
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea

Some people see things that just aren’t there or hear voices that others can’t detect. These same people might also feel intensely powerful and strong, and they might be willing to act upon their hallucinations with violence or suicidal acts.

People who were otherwise healthy can endure life-threatening complications due to their drug use, and those medical problems can take hold almost immediately after use. For example, a case study in the journal Clinical Toxicology describes a man who experienced a seizure within 30 minutes of taking a synthetic marijuana product. The man had previously been healthy, but it’s not clear what kind of long-term problems he might have due to this very serious medical episode. He was required, however, to stay in the hospital for 10 days, and for some people, this could cause financial ruin due to high copayments and missed work.

People who head to the hospital with serious medical problems due to synthetic marijuana can also face significant delays in getting the medical treatments they need for the symptoms they face. Most of these products don’t show up in routine chemical screenings for drugs, and most people who take these drugs have no idea what active ingredient is causing them distress. It can be difficult for doctors to provide the proper treatment when they don’t know the cause of the original problem, and some doctors may be leery of providing any kind of care at all until they get definitive results that might never arrive.

Long-Term Damage

signsSome of the problems associated with synthetic marijuana are serious and just don’t seem to disappear with time. The case of a teenager in Texas makes these dangers all too clear. According to an account published by CNN, this teen smoked a form of synthetic marijuana and developed persistent headaches in the days that followed the use of the drugs. In time, her headaches worsened to the degree that she developed hallucinations, and she was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. There, medical experts discovered that the previously healthy teen had endured a series of strokes. She was left with movement abnormalities and limited vision, and it’s unclear how much of her function might return.It would be lovely to blame this episode on a fluke or the outlier behavior of one person’s body that might never take hold in anyone else, but the evidence suggests that the same thing could happen to other people who abuse synthetic marijuana. After all, the drugs are known to cause an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, and these are the sorts of conditions that can lead to strokes. Have enough of them, and the damage could be devastating.

People who use synthetic marijuana also face the risk of enduring kidney damage, although experts aren’t quite sure why that’s the case.

According to a report compiled by the Associated Press, 16 people in at least six states have been hospitalized with very serious problems relating to their kidneys, all caused by smoking synthetic marijuana. It’s possible that the high heart rate and blood pressure could be the cause of the kidney issues, as this kind of problem can place great strain on delicate tissues in the kidney, but it’s also possible that some of the chemicals sprayed on drugs like this are just toxic to kidney cells.

The heart can also be significantly damaged due to its erratic beating, and some of that damage might not appear for days after the intoxication has ended. For example, an article in the journal Pediatrics outlines three cases involving synthetic marijuana and heart attacks. These people were young when they used these drugs, and the authors note that heart attacks are relatively rare in young people. Even so, the heart attacks were diagnosed with sophisticated tests, and the results were unequivocal. All three cases came for help “within days” of using the drug too, which seems to suggest that the damage wasn’t immediately apparent to these young people. A heart attack like this could prove fatal, and the damage during an episode like this could make future heart attacks more likely.

Possible Contamination

the human brainIn response to the health concerns posed by these products, the Drug Enforcement Administration placed five of the most common ingredients on the list of controlled substances, meaning that products with these ingredients are illegal to buy, sell or possess. Unfortunately, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that drug makers evade these laws by tweaking the chemical content of their products. If they use a different type of chemical spray, they may be able to claim that their products fall within the laws and can be taken safely by almost anyone. These little tweaks could be quite dangerous for people who use the drugs, however, as they might mean that drug users buy products of varying strength and potency on a regular basis. One dose might be safe for that person, but the next batch might be so different that a similar dose produces death. It’s just impossible to tell, when the dealers are working so hard to combat the law.It’s also worth mentioning that most of these products aren’t made in laboratories that are subject to intense quality control measures. They’re made in clandestine labs where profit is key and the needs of the people who take the drugs matter little or nothing. The surfaces the drugs are made upon could be contaminated with all sorts of bacteria and disease-causing matter, and the products themselves could be tainted with molds or bacteria when they’re packaged for consumption.

Additionally, drug manufacturers might lace their products with all sorts of additives to pack a more powerful punch, including:

  • Caffeine
  • Opioids
  • Cocaine
  • Tobacco

Once again, people who are taking these products are putting their lives into the hands of people who really don’t care if their customers live or die, and each time these consumers take the drugs, they could be putting their lives at risk.

Other Factors

The laws that apply to synthetic marijuana don’t only apply to people who make or sell these drugs. People who abuse these drugs can also be prosecuted for possessing the drugs, and the consequences for that arrest could be dire. Some people face long legal battles as a result, and some are even forced to fight for custody of their children. Some employers might also think twice about keeping a person on the payroll, if a conviction for drug abuse takes place.

Even if an arrest doesn’t take place, using a drug like this could also place a family under great strain. These drugs are expensive, and people who are addicted might need to take huge doses in order to deliver the benefits to which they’ve become accustomed.

People who use drugs can also become so disconnected with normalcy that they begin to fight with their family members and lose interest in the things that once brought them joy. They may feel isolated, and the people who love them might feel helpless to intervene or change the situation.

We Can Help

If you or someone you know has developed a taste for synthetic marijuana, we’d like to help you. At The Orchid, we provide a safe and healing environment for women in recovery from addictions, and the therapies we provide really can make a difference. Through individual therapy, group therapy, support group meetings and experiential therapy, we can help you uncover your strength and learn to live your life in a whole new way. We also provide intensive follow-up care, ensuring that you’ll have help long after our inpatient program is through. Please call us to get started.

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