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What are the Effects of Using Synthetic Marijuana?
Synthetic marijuana is a psychoactive substance with a chemical structure similar to cannabis. All of the different versions of synthetic marijuana are unregulated substitutes for true marijuana, which remains illegal in much of the United States. Synthetic marijuana is sometimes called “synthetic cannabinoids” or “fake weed,” and it is available to consumers under a variety of brand-names, including K2, Spice, Black Mamba, and Kronic. While synthetic marijuana vendors claim their products are “natural” (even “organic”) and safe, they are actually artificial substances with possibly harmful effects.
Despite its name, synthetic marijuana is not marijuana. While both substances interact with the brain in a similar way, the effects of the two drugs are different. When a person smokes, vapes, or ingests synthetic marijuana, the drug enters the person’s bloodstream and activates cannabinoid receptors in the person’s brain. In some cases, synthetic marijuana will contain THC, the primary cannabinoid agonist in true marijuana. However, some batches of synthetic marijuana contain THC-like substances which are dangerous and illegal, such as HU-210, the chemical ingredient in some of the earliest “fake weed” products.
In either case, THC or THC-like compounds which enter the body from true or synthetic marijuana disrupt connections between neurons by displacing natural cannabinoid neurotransmitters. Generally, this phenomenon results in the temporary impairment of a person’s cognition, memory, coordination, attention, and emotional balance. Synthetic marijuana users often report sensations of relaxation, euphoria, and enhanced awareness as well as perceptions of detachment from reality.
However, the chemicals in some batches of synthetic marijuana bind to cannabinoid receptors more powerfully than THC in normal cannabis and affect the brain and body in more potent and unpredictable ways. Sometimes, synthetic marijuana can provoke symptoms of psychosis, such as anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations.
Side-Effects of Synthetic Marijuana
Many of the effects of using synthetic marijuana are similar to the effects of using true marijuana, yet they may be more intense and long-lasting. Synthetic marijuana can also induce a variety of side-effects. Most synthetic marijuana side-effects are not life-threatening, but they may be uncomfortable and painful. In some cases, the side-effects of synthetic marijuana have caused health emergencies. The more common, possible side-effects of synthetic marijuana include:
- Anxiety and aggression
- Chest pain
- Increased heart rate
- Mood swings
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
Some batches of synthetic marijuana contain toxic chemicals which may cause organ damage. For example, one batch of K2 adulterated with rate poison caused several people in Illinois to suffer internal bleeding several years ago. From 2011 to 2017, poison control centers in America handled over 30,000 cases involving synthetic marijuana, which can also poses risks for seizures, heart attacks, and kidney failure. From 2011 to 2014, at least twenty people died in the United States from a synthetic marijuana reaction.
Synthetic Marijuana Addiction and Withdrawal
As with real marijuana, long-term synthetic marijuana use can result in a substance use disorder, especially for people who already struggle with addiction to alcohol or other drugs. A person who repeatedly uses synthetic marijuana will eventually develop tolerance to the effects of the drug and use it more often and in greater quantities to continue to feel “high.”
Eventually, the person’s body will become accustomed to the presence of synthetic marijuana in its systems and exhibit adverse reactions when the person stops using synthetic marijuana. Withdrawal is a primary sign of a dependence disorder. In fact, withdrawal often prevents people from quitting drugs. The symptoms of synthetic marijuana withdrawal include:
- Agitation and irritability
- Loss of appetite
- Mood swings
According to a 2016 study, synthetic marijuana withdrawal can even cause seizures. While withdrawal is painful and potentially dangerous, it is necessary to undergo withdrawal to overcome dependence and begin to live drug-free. For this reason, many rehab centers offer supervised detox programs. If a person who struggles with synthetic marijuana dependence does not start treatment, they may develop an addiction disorder characterized by cravings and compulsive use, despite negative consequences.
Start Rehab Today
A substance use disorder that involves synthetic marijuana can be a heavy burden. Luckily, there are rehab centers all across America and throughout the world which offer programs to help people overcome addiction to synthetic marijuana or any other drug. If you or someone you know has a synthetic marijuana problem, please contact a dedicated treatment provider to find out more about your rehab options.
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