K2: The Facts On Synthetic Marijuana

Glenn Ellis

By Glenn Ellis

(Trice Edney Wire) – As if our young people aren’t facing enough challenges to their future, more drug-related troubling news.

If you thought marijuana was supposed to be pretty harmless, you’re probably shocked to find out there’s some synthetic stuff that’s a “whole ‘nother animal”.

A few weeks ago, more than 90 people overdosed on K2 in one New Haven park in May of this year, for example, 25 people were hospitalized in one area of Brooklyn, New York, after having negative reactions to what was believed to be K2.

Hospitals are even reporting people showing up at emergency rooms, suffering from severe bleeding from rat poison, when it started showing up in products that mimic marijuana, often called K2 and Spice. At least 40 cases of bleeding from rat poison have been confirmed in Milwaukee, and in 10 other states this year, including seven deaths. Illinois was hit the hardest, with Wisconsin and Maryland next in line.

Timing of this trend could not be worse, as society and legislators are moving towards acknowledging the benefits of medical marijuana. Even though some medical benefits of smoking pot may be overstated by advocates of marijuana legalization, recent research has demonstrated that there are legitimate medical uses for marijuana and strong reasons to continue studying the drug’s medicinal uses. This could fuel a backlash on current clinical practices and funding policies for further research.

There’s even a fair amount of evidence that marijuana does no harm to the lungs, unless you also smoke tobacco. One study published in Journal of the American Medical Association found that not only does marijuana not impair lung function, it may even increase lung capacity. Even the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse lists medical uses for cannabis.

Many people have heard about K2, also known as synthetic cannabis, fake pot, synthetic marijuana, legal weed, herbal incense and potpourri. But most people have no idea how this awful synthetic drug is affecting millions of people all over the world. The word is leaking out, however, as reports to Poison Control and emergency room visits have skyrocketed over the past few years. Experts and users say the appeal of synthetic cannabinoids are their price, availability, and the fact that they don’t show up on routine drug tests.

The question is : what exactly is Spice / K2 – and what does it do to you?

Natural marijuana gains its mind-altering effects from a chemical known as THC. Synthetic marijuana, on the other hand, is coated with synthetic cannabinoids – a family of over 700 research chemicals. They can be anywhere from 2 to 100 times more potent than THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

In other words, synthetic marijuana , or K2, or Spice is completely different than natural marijuana. In 2008, the scientific and law enforcement communities began to study what was actually contained in synthetic cannabis mixtures. What they found was alarming. Analysis showed that rather than being a simple mixture of harmless herbs, the product had in fact been sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids.

According to the CDC, synthetic marijuana affects the same parts of the brain that THC does (the active chemical in marijuana). However, the synthetic stuff doesn’t actually contain THC and instead contains a mix of chemicals very different from THC—with very different effects on your body. Some of the reported side effects of synthetic marijuana compounds include convulsions, kidney injury, toxicity to the heart, strokes and anxiety. Elevated blood pressure, vomiting, and agitation can also occur. Hundreds of users of synthetic cannabinoid products typically sold in gas stations and convenience stores under various brand names such as “K2” and “Spice” have been treated for complications such as bleeding, and several people have died.

Synthetic cannabinoids are human-made mind-altering chemicals that are either sprayed on dried, shredded plant material so they can be smoked or sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes and other devices. These products are also known as herbal or liquid incense.

These chemicals are called cannabinoids because they are similar to chemicals found in the marijuana plant. Because of this similarity, synthetic cannabinoids are sometimes misleadingly called “synthetic marijuana” (or “fake weed”), and they are often marketed as safe, legal alternatives to that drug. In fact, they are not safe and may affect the brain much more powerfully than marijuana; their actual effects can be unpredictable and, in some cases, more dangerous or even life-threatening.

Pennsylvania locked down all 25 state prisons recently in response to a recent outbreak of staff members becoming sick from a substance they identified as synthetic marijuana. Reports from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections didn’t provide much information about the liquefied drug, also known as K2. They believe it comes into facilities soaked into paper via letters or books. Inmates then eat or smoke it.

Manufacturers sell these products in colorful foil packages and plastic bottles to attract consumers. They market these products under a wide variety of specific brand names. Hundreds of brands now exist, including K2, Spice, Joker, Black Mamba, Kush, and Kronic. Some young people incorrectly assume that these products are “natural” and therefore harmless.

And yes… synthetic cannabinoids, like K2 can also be addictive! Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Glenn Ellis, is a Medical Ethicist.