A new government report finds emergency rooms visits related to synthetic marijuana more than doubled between 2010 and 2011, HealthDay reports.
Synthetic marijuana, also known as "K2" or "Spice," is especially dangerous because there is a widespread misconception these drugs are safe and legal, according to Pamela Hyde, Administrator at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). "These injury reports compel us to get the word out to all segments of the community — especially youth — that these products can cause significant harm," she noted in a news release.
Emergency rooms reported more than 28,500 visits linked to synthetic marijuana in 2011, up from 11,400 in 2010, according to the report. Among teens ages 12 to 17, the number of visits linked to synthetic marijuana rose from about 3,800 to nearly 7,600 during that year. Among young adults ages 18 to 20, ER visits linked to synthetic marijuana rose from about 2,000 to more than 8,000.
Short-term effects of synthetic marijuana include loss of control, lack of pain response, increased agitation, pale skin, seizures, vomiting, profuse sweating, uncontrolled/spastic body movements, elevated blood pressure, heart rate and palpitations.
The drug takes effect in three to five minutes, and the high lasts from one to eight hours. In addition to physical signs of use, users may experience severe paranoia, delusions, hallucinations and increased agitation. Its long-term effects are unknown.
The Synthetic Drug Prevention Act of 2012 specifically prohibits the sale or possession of some types of synthetic marijuana. The Drug Enforcement Administration and nearly all states have also taken some regulatory action against these products once they have been identified, according to SAMHSA. "However manufacturers of these compounds continue to modify their chemical structures in an attempt to evade current laws," the agency notes.