Synthetic Marijuana Abuse Causes & Effects

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Understanding Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Learn about synthetic marijuana and substance abuse

Synthetic marijuana, more commonly known as spice or K2, is a substance that continues to gain popularity even though there are significant dangers associated with its use. This substance consists of a synthetic chemical compound that was initially developed in an effort to mimic the effects of regular marijuana. However, the numerous chemicals that are utilized to make these compounds have developed a drug that is highly risky to use and produces effects that go above and beyond the effects that occur when using regular marijuana. In addition, the formulation of compounds such as these change as the substance is being developed, often resulting in numerous batches of synthetic marijuana containing varying toxicities. Another way to put this is that while one individual could use synthetic marijuana and establish a euphoric high, another individual could use a different batch and end up in a state of psychosis. Sadly, just one hit of synthetic marijuana can lead to death.

Similar to the abuse of any other substance, once an individual starts continually using synthetic marijuana, it can be tremendously challenging to stop without the help of trained professionals. Even when facing risky consequences as a result of their use, many individuals find that they are incapable of ending their abuse of this perilous drug. Luckily, there are options for treatment of synthetic marijuana abuse available to help individuals overcome their desire to continually abuse synthetic marijuana.


Synthetic marijuana abuse statistics

The actual prevalence of synthetic marijuana is not known, however there are a variety of statistics that show the detriments that the abuse of this substance has caused. In 2014, poison control centers throughout the country reported almost 800 cases of synthetic marijuana exposure. Within two weeks in March of the same year, emergency departments in Louisiana reported that they treated over 100 individuals for synthetic marijuana overdoses. Later that year in May, 120 people in Texas suffered synthetic marijuana overdoses in just five short days.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for synthetic marijuana abuse

The risk factors and causes that can contribute to one’s likelihood of abusing synthetic marijuana include:

Genetic: As with other substance use disorders, the development of synthetic marijuana use disorder often has a genetic link. Those who have a family history of antisocial personality disorder, substance use disorders, and/or conduct disorder are more susceptible to abusing synthetic marijuana than those who do not share this same genetic makeup.

Environmental: The environment in which an individual lives can have incredible impact on whether or not she will begin abusing synthetic marijuana and/or develop a disorder surrounding it. Factors including being exposed to substances (including synthetic marijuana), experiencing numerous types of trauma, or being raised in an environment with poor supervision can all affect whether or not a person is likely to abuse substances like synthetic marijuana.

Risk Factors:

  • Ease of access to and availability of the substance
  • Beginning to abuse drugs and/or alcohol at a young age
  • Personal or family history of other substance use disorders
  • Personal or family history of conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder
  • Suffering from childhood maltreatment
  • Struggling with behavioral disinhibition
  • Experiencing trauma
  • Possessing limited self-control

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of synthetic marijuana abuse

Since there are various chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana, the symptoms and signs that can signal this type of substance abuse can vary in severity, duration, and type. Some of the potential signs and symptoms can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Continually increasing the dosage of the substance or the frequency in which it is abused
  • Inappropriate laughter
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at work or home
  • Belligerence
  • Physical aggression
  • Social withdrawal
  • No longer participating in previously enjoyed activities
  • Decline in occupational performance

 Physical Symptoms:

  •  Panic attacks
  • Impaired motor coordination
  • Nausea
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Vomiting

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Psychosis
  • Paranoid ideation
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgment
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Emotional detachment
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Mania
  • Fluctuating moods
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of euphoria


Effects of synthetic marijuana abuse

The longer that an individual continues her abuse of synthetic marijuana, the more likely she is to experience a variety of negative effects. A one-time-use of this substance has been known to bring about life-threatening effects. Some examples of the numerous long-term and short-term effects of synthetic marijuana abuse include:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Disturbed relationships
  • Psychosis
  • Need for hospitalization
  • Familial discord
  • Self-harm
  • Chronic suicidal ideation
  • Decline in occupational functioning
  • Onset or worsening of current symptoms of other mental health issues

Co-Occurring Disorders

Synthetic marijuana abuse and co-occurring disorders

Those who battle with synthetic marijuana use disorder can also struggle with the below listed co-occurring mental health disorders:

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal & overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal: If a substance like synthetic marijuana is being abused, individuals place themselves at risk of withdrawal when they stop their use. The symptoms of withdrawal that can develop will vary from individual to individual, however some examples of those that have occurred include:

  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Experiencing hunger, but being unable to keep food down
  • Violent temper tantrums
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Cravings for synthetic marijuana
  • Lethargy

Effects of synthetic marijuana overdose: When a substance like this is consumed in an amount that the body is unable to process, an overdose can occur. Signs that are linked to someone overdosing on synthetic marijuana include:

  • Lapsing into a coma
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delusions
  • Stroke
  • Depersonalization
  • Heart attack
  • Derealization

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After using the real kind, I moved on to the synthetic kind. It caused immense harm to my body both physically and mentally. After getting treatment for my synthetic marijuana addiction at The Rose, I am now about to celebrate 2 years of sobriety.

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