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Report: Synthetic marijuana leads to ED visits

Tuesday December 4, 2012
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Street forms of synthetic cannabinoids were linked to 11,406 of the 4.9 million drug-related ED visits in 2010, according to a new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Commonly known by such street names as "K2" or "Spice," synthetic cannabinoids are substances that are not derived from the marijuana plant but purport to have the same effect as the drug. Although an increasing number of states have passed laws against the sale of synthetic cannabinoids, they have been marketed as a "legal" alternative to marijuana during the past few years. In July, a comprehensive, national ban was enacted against the sale of synthetic cannabinoids under Title XI of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act.

The use of synthetic cannabinoids is tied to a variety of reported symptoms including agitation, nausea, vomiting, tachycardia, elevated blood pressure, tremor, seizures, hallucinations, paranoid behavior and non-responsiveness, according to the report.

Youths between the ages of 12 and 29 constituted 75% of all hospital ED visits involving synthetic cannabinoids, with males accounting for 78% of the ED admissions among that age group, according to the report. The average age for people involved in synthetic cannabinoid-related ED admissions was younger than for marijuana-related ED visits (24 vs. 30).

"Healthcare professionals should be alerted to the potential dangers of synthetic cannabinoids, and they should be aware that their patients may be using these substances," SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde said in a news release. "Parents, teachers, coaches and other concerned adults can make a huge impact by talking to young people, especially older adolescents and young adults, about the potential risks associated with using synthetic marijuana."

The report, "Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits Involving Synthetic Cannabinoids," is based on data drawn from SAMHSA’s Drug Abuse Warning Network, a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related morbidity and mortality. The full report is available at www.samhsa.gov/data/2k12/DAWN105/SR105-synthetic-marijuana.pdf.


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