Synthetic marijuana’ may cause serious harm to health

Written by Ana Sandoiu  Published: Thursday 2 February 2017

Misleadingly marketed as a legal and safe alternative to marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids have a variety of adverse health effects. A new review summarizes the clinical cases that have so far been linked to the use of the synthetic substances.

A new review warns that so-called synthetic marijuana is actually very different from cannabis and is potentially unsafe.

Synthetic cannabinoids (SCBs) are a type of psychotropic chemical increasingly marketed as a safe and legal alternative to marijuana.

They are either sprayed onto dried plants so that they can be smoked, or they are sold as vaporizable and inhalable liquids.

A new review from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) warns against the dangerous side effects of the compounds popularly (and misleadingly) referred to as “synthetic marijuana.”

Referring to the SCBs currently sold as “K2” and “Spice,” Paul L. Prather, a cellular and molecular pharmacologist at UAMS and corresponding author of the review, explains the motivation behind it:

SCBs linked to serious adverse health effects and even death

As reported in the review, some of these effects suggest that SCBs cause much more toxicity than marijuana. Toxicity has been reported across a wide range of systems, including the gastrointestinal, neurological, cardiovascular, and renal systems.

The clinical cases documented in the review include acute and long-term symptoms, such as:

  • Seizures
  • Convulsions
  • Catatonia
  • Kidney injury
  • Hypertension
  • Chest pain
  • Myocardial toxicity
  • Ischemic stroke

Common adverse effects include prolonged and severe vomiting, anxietypanic attacks, and irritability. Additionally, SCBs reportedly caused extreme psychosis in susceptible individuals, whereas marijuana only causes mild psychosis in those predisposed.

Furthermore, 20 deaths have been linked to SCBs between 2011 and 2014, whereas no deaths were reported among marijuana users during that time.

Finally, SCBs are likely to result in tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal.

For more