A new drug is popping up in ERs and addiction treatment centers across the country. Synthetic marijuana, also called K2, Spice, or Mojo, is a human-made substance that is designed to mimic tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the naturally occurring psychoactive drug in marijuana. Despite its name, synthetic marijuana is very different from actual marijuana, and can be exponentially more harmful.


Synthetic marijuana can be found in head shops, convenience stores, gas stations, and on the internet, making it easy to acquire. It’s often either sold as “potpourri,” in the form of chemicals sprayed onto plant material, or as liquid “incense.” Users smoke the plant material or brew it into tea, or vaporize and inhale the liquid using e-cigarettes.


Several factors contribute to the rising popularity of synthetic marijuana. Many people mistakenly believe that it’s somehow safer than marijuana, and traditional drug tests often can’t identify the presence of synthetic marijuana. Also, the legality of synthetic marijuana is murky, as drug manufacturers create new strains of synthetic marijuana just as quickly as law enforcement outlaws them. Thus, some people think synthetic marijuana is a safer, legal way to get high. Finally, synthetic marijuana is very cheap, at around a dollar per joint, and easy to access.


Most of the people who use synthetic marijuana are young, and perhaps this isn’t surprising, as marijuana seems to be the drug of choice for middle school through college students. 75% of ER visits due to synthetic marijuana in 2010 were from young people between 12 and 29 years old, and in 2014, synthetic marijuana was the third most commonly abused drug among eighth and twelfth graders. Many young people transition from marijuana to synthetic marijuana, believing they’re making a safer, more legal choice, but in reality, they may end up in drug rehab or the ER.


Because synthetic marijuana tries to replicate THC, its effects are similar to marijuana. Users experience relaxation, an elevated mood, altered perception of reality, and psychosis. However, synthetic marijuana binds more strongly to neural receptors than marijuana does, and side effects are much more dangerous. This danger is heightened by the fact that the composition of synthetic marijuana is often totally unknown, and may contain chemicals originally intended for cancer treatments or fertilizers. Thus, the user has no idea how each particular strain of synthetic marijuana will affect her or him.


Serious side effects of synthetic marijuana include paranoia, nausea, vomiting, heart attacks, rapid heart rate, suicidal thoughts, extreme anxiety, confusion, seizures, violent behavior, high blood pressure, hallucinations, kidney damage and even failure, and death.


Unfortunately, on top of these harmful effects, synthetic marijuana is also addictive. People who become addicted can experience withdrawals or lack of control over their usage. If you or someone you love is addicted to any drugs or alcohol, please contact our understanding representatives. Mental Health Series will help you find an addiction recovery facility or luxury drug rehab program that addresses your individual needs, where you can go through detox and recovery in the most comfortable setting possible. Please take the first step toward healing today.