Synthetic Cannabinoids Cause New Outbreak of ER Visits

New Synthetic Drugs Poisoning Users

A recent letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine from a group of doctors in Colorado discusses a troublesome finding: the more than 250 poisoning cases caused by a new synthetic cannabinoid around the Denver area in the fall of 2013.[1]

Synthetic cannabinoids are compounds designed to emulate the psychotropic effects of marijuana’s major chemical component, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. While the initial generations of synthetic cannabinoids, sold under brand names like “Spice” and “K2,” were relatively benign, if somewhat unpredictable, the one discovered recently in Denver, labeled ADB-PINACA, has been found to be extremely dangerous.*

Associated with neurotoxicity and cardiotoxicity, 76 users of ADB-PINACA were admitted to emergency rooms with symptoms including erratic heart rates and mental delusions; seven of these users required admission to intensive care units.[2]

An Unpredictable Family of Drugs

Although the outbreak of ADB-PINACA use seems to have since died down, Denver authorities and medical professionals nationwide are concerned about future developments in regard to synthetic cannabinoids and the danger these chemicals present to unaware users. What started as a drug you could buy at your local gas station has become a highly dangerous cocktail of mystery chemicals.

Negative Side Effects Include

  • Rapid Heart Rate
  • Paranoia
  • Extreme Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Vomiting
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Increased Blood Pressure
  • Reduced Blood Supply to the Heart
  • Heart Attacks

The harmful effects of synthetic cannabinoids were first reported in the United States in 2009. Since that time, these drugs have made their way around the nation, landing thousands in the hospital. U.S. poison centers received over 6,300 hundred calls about exposures to these drugs in 2013 and 2014.[3]

In July of 2012, President Barrack Obama signed the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act, which along with the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 designated all cannabimimetic agents as Schedule I drugs – meaning there was no medical use for them and they only existed to be abused. But as old synthetic drugs became outlawed, new ones emerged to take their place, continuing and exacerbating the issue.[4]

A Popular and Potentially More Dangerous form of Marijuana

U.S. poison centers received over 6,300 hundred calls about exposures to these drugs in 2013 and 2014.Based on numbers reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2012, synthetic cannabinoids were the second most popular drugs among high school seniors, behind marijuana. Many of these products have been falsely marketed as being “natural,” and “safe,” while they are also less easily detected in drug tests, contributing to their recent growth in popularity.

Cannabinoid users experience much of the same euphoric effects associated with marijuana use – relaxation, elevated mood and altered perception. They even work in much the same way as marijuana, acting on the same cell receptors that are affected by THC. However, many of the other chemicals mixed into the synthetic cannabinoid can be more powerful and lead to even stronger effects.[5]

The most dangerous aspect of using synthetic cannabinoids is the unpredictability of the mystery ingredients inside. They contain powerful ingredients which were designed specifically to be abused; most cannabinoids are untested for safety and users generally have no idea what they’re putting into their bodies.[6]

Learn More and Get Help

Research into the short and long term effects of synthetic cannabinoids is ongoing, due to their relatively recent arrival onto the American market. However, the in-house research team at Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches has studied them extensively and can offer valuable insight and details into defeating cannabinoid and synthetic drug addictions. For more information on the dangers of synthetic cannabinoids, as well as other novel synthetic hallucinogens, read our latest informational ebook, Understanding Addiction to Bath Salts.