Teenagers and Synthetic Marijuana (Spice, K2): What parents need to know

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Teenagers and Synthetic Marijuana (Spice, K2):  What parents need to know

Recently released statistics released by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) shows that synthetic marijuana’s popularity among teenagers is on the rise. Unfortunately, the statistics reveal that teenagers are among its most popular users. Of the 11,406 people sent to the emergency room for synthetic marijuana in 2010, a third were between the ages of 12 and 17. A survey revealed that synthetic pot is the second most used drug among high school seniors, with 11.4% admitting to use. Marijuana remains the most used drug among high school seniors, with 36% admitting to using it. While it is not being called an epidemic, it is a growing concern among public officials and something parents should talk to their teens about it.

What is Synthetic Marijuana?

Synthetic marijuana goes by many names including spice, K2, skunk, and fake weed. It first appeared in the US in 2008, sold under a number of different brands such as Mr. Nice Guy or K2. In order to bypass the FDA, producers of the drug labeled them herbal incenses that are not for human consumption. The drugs were commonly sold at gas stations, head shops, and over the internet across the country. The packets contain dried plant material, resembling potpourri, and is sprayed with a chemical compound that when ingested mimics the effects of marijuana. The drug is difficult to detect with a common drug test making it popular among teenagers and young adults.

The chemical was originally created by scientists conducting research on possible medical applications of marijuana. In March 2011, the Drug Enforcement Agency banned “fake pot” that emulates the effects of marijuana and designated it a Schedule I controlled substance, making it illegal to sell, buy or possess. Despite this, producers of the drug changed the chemical composition of the drug and continued distributing its products. The DEA continues to evaluate the need to update the list of banned faked pot.

What are the health effects of Synthetic Marijuana?

According to drugabuse.gov, there has been little research on the effects of spice on human brains or other possible health effects. Users of the drug report similar effects of the drug to marijuana. In many cases, users report that the effects of spice are stronger than the effects of marijuana. Extreme anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations have been reported as well as rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, confusion, high blood pressure, and even heart attack or kidney failure in very few cases. In an article in myhealthnewdaily.comDr. Jeff Lapoint, a senior toxicology fellow at New York University, Bellevue Hospital, states that synthetic marijuana is much more dangerous than real marijuana. 

The more you read about this drug, the scarier it sounds. All levels of government are doing their best to put an end to this illicit industry. This summer alone, federal agents conducted a nation-wide crackdown on the industry arresting 90 people and seizing $36 million in cash from all over the country. Despite, the lack of research, it is hard to overlook that this drug has sent thousands of people to the emergency room, yielded thousands of calls to Poison Control Centers, and has been blamed for the death of several people. 

Synthetic Marijuana in South Florida

Both Miami-Dade and Broward Counties are in the process of banning the sale of synthetic marijuana regardless of whether the chemical substance is or isn’t on the DEA’s list of banned substances. Many local cities such as Sunrise and Sweetwater have passed similar measures. Many are concerned that the new laws are not enough to keep the drug off the street and have proposed harsher laws prohibiting the way it is sold.

Chris Sweeney of the Miami New Times wrote “Fake-Pot Industry Comes Down From a Three-Year High” chronicling the story of two men in Palm Beach county responsible for manufacturing Mr. Nice Guy, one of the more popular brands of synthetic marijuana. It is a chilling tale of the underbelly of this supposedly legitimate industry, all happening in Miami’s backyard.

Talk to Your Teens

The lack of research behind the side effects of synthetic marijuana should not deter you from talking to your teenager about this dangerous new drug. The American Association of Poison Control Centers received 4,500 calls between 2010 and 2011 about problems with this drug. Teenagers may downplay the risk of this drug because of its association to marijuana, a non-lethal drug. However, this drug is synthetic, meaning it was created in a lab, and should be more closely associated with other synthetic drugs such as LSD and ectasy, whose health effects are well documented. Not only is it illegal, it can be very harmful and even deadly. There are simply too many warning signs and risks associated with this drug. Have an honest conversation with your teen to ensure they understand that this is not marijuana, it is much worse. 

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By Miguel Brown