Dangerous artificial marijuana is used less in states where weed is legal

Sometimes packaged as e-juice for vaping or as edibles, most synthetic cannabinoids are sold as dried plant material pulverized with acetone, embalming fluid or other solvents mixed with psychoactive substances manufactured in the laboratory.
Between 2010 and 2015, synthetic cannabis poisonings increased, according to the Register of toxic cases, with over 42,000 cases of toxic exposure reported during this time. However, those numbers may now be declining in states where recreational marijuana use is legal, said Tracy Klein, associate director of the Center for Cannabis Policy, Research and Outreach at Washington State University in Vancouver, Washington.

She is the lead author of a study that found calls to poison control centers about synthetic cannabinoids dropped by more than a third between 2016 and 2019 in states that legalized recreational marijuana.

“These products are made in a powder form and can be pulverized or added to something that looks exactly like natural cannabis. So in a party situation, I could see someone might use it unintentionally,” Klein said. , who is also an associate professor at the WSU College of Nursing.

However, people may also use synthetic cannabinoids “in an attempt to avoid positive drug tests performed as a condition of employment, in drug treatment programs, or in the criminal justice system.” according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A deadly problem

Marijuana copycats have sent thousands to the emergency room over the past decade. Some even died, including a 17-year-old boy “who suffered cardiac arrest after apparently taking a single ‘hit’ from K2/Spice”, According to the CDC.

According to experts, there is no way of knowing what synthetic cannabinoids are actually in the purchased product or what else might be in the solvents used to soak the dried plants.

In April 2018, 153 people in Illinois fell ill and four died after consuming synthetic cannabinoids mixed with rat poison. Later that year, in New Haven, Connecticut, a version of K2 sickened 95 people in two days. They experienced symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, lethargy and loss of consciousness.

Officially known as “synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists,” these artificial products are different from synthetic cannabis products for medical use, Klein said.

“They don’t show up for regular drug tests,” she said, “and the body doesn’t recognize them in a way that has positive effects.”

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The study, published Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Toxicology, analyzed data from the National Poison Data System between 2016 and 2019. The researchers found that there were 7,600 calls related to the use of synthetic cannabinoids during those three years. Approximately 65% ​​of calls to poison control centers were for situations that required medical attention and 61 people died.

More than half of those calls (56%) were made in states with restrictive cannabis policies, according to the study. Nearly a third (38.6%) occurred in states that allow medical use and 5.5% occurred in “permissive” states, where recreational use is legal, according to the study.

How Synthetic Cannabinoids Work

Synthetic cannabinoids were first developed in the 1980s as a means of studying how tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, impacted the brain to produce a high, the CDC said.
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“A particular synthetic cannabis was designed by a pharmaceutical company as a potential pain-relieving drug,” Klein said. “It turned out to be so strong and potent, and had so many side effects, that it wasn’t prosecuted.”

Today, synthetics are mostly produced overseas and shipped to the United States. In fact, the first shipment “known to contain synthetic cannabinoids was seized at a US border in 2008,” according to the CDC.

“It’s not just an American problem. It’s become an international problem,” Klein said, pointing to data which lists at least 320 different synthetic cannabinoids sold on the illegal market as of February 2022.

“And those are just the ones that have been flagged and identified,” she added.

Although not identical to weed, synthetics act on the same cannabinoid receptors as THC, but can be up to 100 times more potent due to the way they bind to receptors in the brain, a said Klein.

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Exposure can cause mild to severe neurological damage reactions, such as agitation and central nervous system depression, even leading to coma. Other symptoms include “drowsiness, irritability, confusion, dizziness, incoordination, inability to concentrate, strokes and seizures”. the CDC noted.

Psychiatric symptoms include “hallucinations, delusions, psychosis, violent behavior and suicidal thoughts,” the agency said. “Other physical signs and symptoms including tachypnea, tachycardia, hypertension, severe nausea and vomiting, chest pain and heart attacks, rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of damaged muscles), kidney failure and death. “

There is no antidote for synthetic cannabinoid poisoning and long-term effects are unknown, the CDC said. Treatment is supportive, using intravenous fluids, oxygen and other airway protection, and drugs for agitation and combativeness.

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