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Why synthetic marijuana is so risky



(The Conversation is an independent and not-for-profit source for news, analysis and commentary by academic experts.)

C. Michael White, University of Connecticut

(TALK) The Green, a gathering place in New Haven, Connecticut, near Yale University, looked like a mass casualty zone with 70 heavy drug overdoses during a period from August 15-16. 2018.

The cause: synthetic cannabinoids, also known as K2, Spice or AK47, which induced choking, vomiting, unconsciousness and difficulty in breathing. On July 1

9, 2018, the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers that another dose of synthetic marijuana had been treated with rat poison. In 10 states and the District of Columbia, hundreds of people with severe bleeding were hospitalized and four people died.


In many parts of the country, there were episodic crises due to synthetic marijuana, the largest in Mississippi where 721 adverse events occurred between 2 and 3 April 2015.


Even with outbreaks, synthetic cannabinoids are 30 times more likely than normal marijuana. Despite these risks, seven percent of high school graduates and about 17 percent of adults have tried synthetic cannabinoids. It's easy to understand why these synthetic substitutes are seductive. They are easy to buy, relatively cheap, produce a higher potency and do not emit the typical marijuana scent. And they are much harder to detect in urine or blood than marijuana.

As an intensive care and clinical pharmacologist, I've been researching street drugs for over a decade to help clinicians in emergency rooms, critical care, and poison control. Overdose of Patients

Why is synthetic marijuana risky?

When you open a pack of synthetic cannabinoids like K2 or Spice and pour the dried vegetation into your hand, it looks like marijuana. These dried leaves and stems may be inert or derived from psychoactive plants such as wild dagga. Some of these plants are contaminated with heavy metals, pesticides, mold or salmonella.

However, synthetic cannabinoids are anything but natural. They are mass-produced overseas and then shipped to the US in large quantities, where they are dissolved and then mixed with dried vegetation that absorbs the liquid. This process is very inaccurate, so the dose in a packet may be very different within or between batches.


There are several hundred synthetic cannabinoids that stimulate all cannabinoid type 1 receptors (CB1), as does the active ingredient in natural marijuana, THC, which provides the high. But they do it with different intensities and for different periods of time. Some contain the central ring structure of the THC molecule before laboratory modification, but many do not. Further problems arise because some of the synthetic cannabinoids can stimulate non-cannabinoid receptors and also produce unexpected effects. There is no way to know which synthetic cannabinoids are actually contained in the product you have purchased.

Natural marijuana not only contains THC. The other ingredients in natural marijuana such as cannabidiol, while helping to mitigate the negative effects of THC, are not present in synthetic cannabinoids. In addition to these countless risks, there is also the risk that synthetic cannabinoids may be falsified with other chemicals ranging from opioids to rat poisons.

Synthetic cannabinoids were originally designed by legitimate researchers in the US and around the world to explore the function and structure of cannabinoid receptors. They did not want illegal drug labs to use their prescription to mass-produce these synthetic cannabinoids.

What are the consequences of using these medications?

In addition to the user's high psychological and neurological effects of synthetic cannabinoid use include anxiety, arousal and paranoia, although psychosis and seizures have also occurred. The fear and the psychosis can cause the heart to beat quickly and even cause heart attacks or strokes when the adrenaline of the body flows. Many people suffer from stomach pain with synthetic cannabinoids, and vomiting is also common (which is paradoxical as medical marijuana is used to prevent vomiting). Finally, there is a risk that synthetic cannabinoids can damage both the muscles and the kidneys.

Rarely have people reported having difficulty breathing, but in some cases this is due to the release of adrenaline. In other cases, the butane used to extract THC from marijuana prior to laboratory modification was not removed. The butane ignites when smoking and damages the lungs. Early detection and aggressive treatment of all these adverse events can help prevent serious side effects or death.

What can we do to protect ourselves?

Many of the risks of synthetic cannabinoids and other illicit drugs arise because of contamination, adulteration, substitution and inconsistent dosages. As long as people are able to secretly produce, transport and sell these drugs, there is no way to assure buyers of a consistent quality product. Public health workers, teachers and parents alike must educate adults and students alike about the inherent risks of medicines in their pure form, but should also include the risks associated with poor manufacturing practices.

People generally favor natural marijuana over synthetic forms as long as natural marijuana remains illegal, highly sought after, easily discovered and regularly unavailable, the desire to buy synthetic forms will persist.

Finally, synthetic cannabinoids are mainly produced overseas. Foreign governments, especially in Asia, must fight illegal drug factories and better control cargo traffic for illicit drugs. In addition, all shipping companies must do more to detect the illegal transport of drugs to the United States. There are handheld detectors that can help identify some but not most synthetic cannabinoids. However, the detection will still be very slow.

This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original article here: http://theconversation.com/why-synthetic-marijuana-is-so-risky-102224.



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