Rise in Synthetic Marijuana Use Among Teens Poses Huge Health Risks

Synthetic marijuana continues to be a problem with adolescents. In March, 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administrationtook emergency action to control five chemicals used to make so-called “fake pot.” This action made possessing and/or selling these products illegal in the United States. These chemicals are now designated as Schedule 1 substances, which is the most restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act.

But a recent online article in Pediatrics reported several case studies of adolescents coming to emergency rooms with various unexplained and disturbing symptoms. In each case, the teens had a history of smoking “fake pot,” sometimes alone, and sometimes with marijuana, as well. This substance often goes by the names Spice, K-2, Aroma, Blaze, and Dream.

The fake cannabinoids are not detectable on a routine drug screen. This makes it even more confusing and difficult for ER physicians to determine the cause of some of the behaviors associated with smoking or ingesting “fake pot.”

The American Association of Poison Control Centers has reported over 4,500 calls involving synthetic cannabinoids (marijuana) since 2010. These “fake pot” products are often a blend of plant and herbal materials that are then sprayed with one of the active chemicals outlawed last year, producing a marijuana-like high, as well as other symptoms.

Reports of high blood pressure, high heart rates, seizures and catatonic like states are now in the medical literature. There have even been adolescent deaths reported after the use of these “fake marijuana” substances. There’s still speculation that actress Demi Moore was using some sort of “fake pot” prior to her recent seizure.

Unfortunately, despite the DEA’s attempts to control the chemicals used to produce “fake pot,” the makers of these substances are crafty about getting around the law. They may change the chemicals used to stay ahead of DEA restrictions, or market the products as incense, which is not for human consumption.

Synthetic pot remains widely available, and may even be as close as your neighborhood convenience store! It can be easily ordered online.

Younger tweens and teens are also hearing that “fake marijuana” products are safer and can’t be detected if used. It’s incumbent that parents continue to discuss drug use with their children and the dangers of “fake pot.” An unsuspecting teen may not even understand what’s in “fake pot,” and that even if smoking or ingesting it may not be illegal, it may lead to serious, and possibly life-threatening side effects.

Parents, talk to your kids about this. It could be a matter of life or death.

– Dr. Sue Hubbard

Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of “The Kid’s Doctor” radio show. Submit questions at www.kidsdr.com

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