March 19th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Synthetic marijuana just as dangerous

It may not be marijuana, but its effects are just as potent. A new report in this week's edition of the journal Pediatrics finds more emergency rooms across the United States are seeing an increase in patients who have used synthetic marijuana.

Known as K2, Spice, Mr. Smiley and Blaze, the product can have similar but sometimes more serious consequences than marijuana?  These synthetic cannabinoids are a blend of plant and herbal materials that have been sprayed with chemicals, which produce a certain toxicity.

Sold in such places at gas stations, connivence stores and on the internet, the synthetic marijuana produce euphoric and psychoactive effects similar to those associated with marijuana. But doctors say there are additional side effects that may be particularly dangerous. The drug can leave patients catatonic and listless. And what makes matters worse, very little is known about Synthetic marijuana or how to treat an adverse reaction or overdose.

"When we suspected the use of synthetic marijuana in these patients, we soon realized that there is little information about this drug in the medical literature," said Dr. Joanna Cohen, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Children's National Medical Center in Washington D.C. and the lead author of the paper. "Because it is a relatively new drug," Cohen notes, "we should be aware of the symptoms and make a concerted effort to share our experiences in treating patients so we can develop best practices."

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 4,500 calls involving synthetic cannabinoid toxicity from 2010 to 2011. The drug is difficult to detect, because it does not show up on routine drugs tests. Further lab work is needed to find if a person is using it. The study authors recommend lab studies that include a comprehensive screening (electrolytes, urine test, blood alcohol level) since many drugs are often used together.

Because little research has been done on these products, pediatricians are concerned about the drugs' effects on the teenage brain. Experts predict the synthetic drug may go so far as to effect memory loss and psychosis, if it's used over a long period of time

If you're a parent and suspect your child may be using synthetic marijuana, look for these signs: Excessive sweating, agitation, inability to speak, aggression and restlessness. If a teen is showing these symptoms, doctors recommend you seek medical attention for your child immediately.

soundoff (298 Responses)
  1. real authentic jordan

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    June 3, 2012 at 06:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bernard rush

      Okay Wow Really ! Synthetic pot just as dangerous? What a bunch of Bull Crap! Over seven thousand years of social and anthropological history and this is what you guys come up with? Okay Lets See- soap, oil for lamps and liniments, Fiber for thread , twine , rope, and woven into cloth. A standard in over 7000 years of auyrvedic(sp) and chinese medicine against pain, rheumatism, arthritis, Cancer, MS and associated neural degenerative disorders. A Standard in medicine the western world( see Queen Victoria-England) for over 200 years. Not to mention the word "Homespun" as in home made cloth by settlers in N.America as they moved westward. No One has Died/O.D. From Pot/Grass- Ever. It's Physically Impossible to O.D. from smoking or eating pot in any amount. Proven throughout history. It is this kind of fantastical, made up B.S., that fosters the on going persecution of one of the seven blessed herbs given to humanity, ( and Christ- by the way( check your Bible!- if you know how to read)) that continues the erosion of our civil liberties. Please People wake up and realise that headlines are exactly that!- Headlines to grab the il-informed. Free the Weed- Free The People from Tyranny.By the way- I fully expect to see this post removed within 24 hours! We have nothing to fear except fear it self or stupidiity! Peace Out!

      February 5, 2013 at 15:10 | Report abuse |
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  3. JL

    "Synthetic marijuana just as dangerous"

    Wow... what an incredibly misleading headline. Real marijuana is FAR LESS DANGEROUS than whatever K2 is. In fact, to call it synthetic marijuana is just plain wrong. Marijuana is far from deadly. The pollutants that the average person breathes in every day from the air around them are worse than marijuana.

    June 5, 2012 at 12:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Travis

      i have to disagree first had i will say that stuff is bad no doubt everything they say is most defenitkly right on the money i think more side effects should be added and more research on the effects on the digestive system thats where the news will be your welcom

      July 26, 2012 at 22:39 | Report abuse |
    • MH

      Completely agree. Completely misleading and false headline

      February 4, 2013 at 19:39 | Report abuse |
    • bernard rush

      Right ON! K2 is sooooo Dangerous. It is a synthetic derivative that has no analogy in the natural world. It was created in a lab to Mimic the essential oils and natural effects of real cannabis. Free the weed- Free the people from Tyranny. Democracy is when government fears the people. Tyranny is when people fear the government!

      February 5, 2013 at 15:16 | Report abuse |
  4. jessicaklaaren

    I smoked marijuana for years with no scary "trips" or side effects (other than putting on a few pounds) and recently switched to this new "synthetic" stuff thinking it would be a good way to taper off my use of it all together...WRONG! First of all, the high is completely different, it is much more potent and extreme. I actually only hit a bowl twice and it was too much. The effects were so powerful that I ended up having a panic attack. My heart was racing uncontrollably and so hard I could feel it with my palm on my chest, and it was the most terrifying thing I've ever experienced. This is from someone who was a very experienced smoker, and I've also had my fair share of trips on lsd, shrooms, even used cocaine, so for 2 hits of this stuff to send me into a panic like that pretty much blew my mind. It is nothing to play around with. I can't even imagine smoking more than 1-2 hits because the effects hit you so fast. This is the very reason marijuana should be legalized. It isn't dangerous, certainly less dangerous than alcohol, and 100% less dangerous than whatever is being put into these "synthetic" blends. The kind I used that did that is called Primo, and it says on the package that it Does not contain any illegal or banned substances, DEA compliant.

    June 5, 2012 at 15:28 | Report abuse | Reply
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  6. Rucker88

    I also smoked the primo brand and I feel as if I was extremely close to dying, I mean if that wasn't close to dying then I don't wanna know what close feels like. Not even comparatively close to marijuana. Just plain ridiculous.

    September 24, 2012 at 23:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. lenabutler

    I too think that the headline is a little misleading. It should probably read 'more' dangerous instead of 'just as' dangerous. Having said that, though, regular marijuana also has some pretty serious side effects of its own.


    October 26, 2012 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
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  9. joethejuggler

    Connivence stores? Your Freudian slip is showing! 😉

    February 4, 2013 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Ray

    This "synthetic marijuana" should not even be compared to marijuana. They are entirely different, and have absolutely nothing in common except that the synthetic intends to target the same receptors. I used marijuana for 20 years, often heavily, and saw zero side effects. I tried K2 three times about a year ago, and it was a scary experience. The effects are similar to marijuana, but not really comparable. If anyone is considering trying this stuff, forget it, don't do it. I could tell you its not worth it, even before I heard of some of the horror stories of people who have had strokes as a result. It is the criminalization of a non-harmful natural substance like marijuana that has forced people to create these extremely dangerous synthetic products.

    February 4, 2013 at 16:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Ryan Unser

    what a ridiculous headline

    February 4, 2013 at 22:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Bandy

    "Synthetic marijuana just as dangerous"... as herbs sprayed with toxic chemicals but NOT marijuana!
    I can't believe CNN would post this as a real news article as it is irresponsible and just plain false.
    Obviously this doctor knows nothing about the subject he's writing about. It should have been made clear that this is based upon his (poorly researched) opinion only and not science.

    February 5, 2013 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. R

    Irresponsible, idiotic headline. Marijuana is in no way as dangerous as this substance. you should be fired from your position and writing blogs for extreme right wing radio shows. I understand Glenn Beck is hiring. Moron.

    February 5, 2013 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Vince

    Uh, is the writer deliberately misleading the public? Or just grossly misinformed to the point of pathetic humor?
    Because marijuana has killed a total of 0 people in the history of the human race.
    You can't OD on weed, you can't get addicted to weed, there's no hangover, no ill effect, and it's the cheapest drug there is.
    Alcohol and tobacco are so deadly compared to real marijuana — that it's equivilant to comparing water with poison. And guess what? H2O is illegal and the poison is regulated & sold.

    The danger of the legal synthetic is just another argument for the world wide legalization of marijuana.
    If you don't agree — you're misinformed or clueless. Study after study backs those words up.
    Hell. According to Harvard, weed cures cancer. Don't believe me? Google it.

    This blogger must have brass ones to write that synthetic marijuana is just as dangerous as the real thing. Unless that's poorly placed sarcasm (because it definitely is a joke), then the author needs to get serious and take a dip in the scientific literature.
    Government sponsored studies from decades ago on primates were rigged by forcing enough smoke into their lungs to make them half suffocate. Modern studies show that marijuana is not just as safe as water — but that it also might be a miricle cure.
    Science. Look into it.

    February 5, 2013 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Someone Somewhere

      I disagree that pot is not addictive. It has the potential to be. I am one of the many people who smoke and I am not afraid to admit that I'm addicted to it, so to those who are saying it's not, well, it is – for certain people – that's what I think...

      February 7, 2013 at 20:24 | Report abuse |
  15. Bitrat

    It'll be interesting to see the toxicology report on this.....some of her symptoms match a stimulant profile......

    February 5, 2013 at 13:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Mark

    And Val Wadas-Willingham – CNN Medical Producer is still employed - why??????????????? I've never read a more asinine false statement concerning marijuana in all my life.

    February 7, 2013 at 16:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Dave

    Umm, real marijuana is not "dangerous" AT ALL so how could synthetic pot be considered just as dangerous?? RIDICULOUS statement. The headline should read :"Synthetic pot is dangerous, real marijuana is not"

    August 14, 2013 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Robert Chase

    "Synthetic marijuana just as dangerous" - you contemptible, insinuating dogs! There must not be a journalist left among you.

    September 14, 2013 at 13:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. jambi619

    Synthetic cannabis isn't "just as dangerous" as natural cannabis, it's far more dangerous. It's the 21st century bathtub gin, and, like the poison booze of the 1920s, it only exists because there's not regulated supply of legal, quality tested natural cannabis. People think, great there's something similar to cannabis that I can buy at the store and won't show up on a urine test should I want to become a productive member of society and get a job. But the toxicity or this chemical analogue is much higher than that of natural cannabis, which is virtually nontoxic.

    Now, that's not to say people can't have problems with cannabis, just as some people do with alcohol, but both are safer when they're accessed through licensed, regulated manufacturers and distributors, instead of an unregulated, underground market.

    January 16, 2014 at 16:54 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.