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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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K2 Trend Not Slowing Down

Rising Trend continued...

According to a 2011 study by the University of Michigan, 11.4% of high school seniors admitted to using synthetic marijuana in the past year. In suburban Atlanta, the parents of a 16-year-old say he died after smoking synthetic marijuana and have sued the product’s distributor.

“This isn’t a problem that’s waning,” says Mark Ryan, MD, director of the Louisiana Poison Center. He estimates that his center receives at least one call per day regarding synthetic marijuana.

“It’s something that’s going strong and growing,” he says.

Bans May Fail

Lawmakers have been working on the state and federal levels to combat the growing trend. Forty-one states have banned some synthetic cannabinoids. In July, Congress passed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act, which bans five kinds of synthetic cannabinoids and some bath salts. However, producers continue to modify old compounds and develop new ones, effectively skirting the law.

“Prohibition [of synthetic drugs] fails because it attacks the supply,” Broider says. “As long as the demand is there, producers will keep finding new ways to get these products out there.”

DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno says the new regulations are working.

“By making these substances harder to obtain, we hope to control experimentation,” Carreno says. “I believe as we get deeper into our investigation, we will put a crimp on this problem.”

During a nationwide crackdown in July, the DEA seized 5 million packets of finished designer synthetic drugs, along with materials to make 10 million more packets.

Drugs' Dangers

Synthetic marijuana is generally more potent than regular marijuana. Ryan says people who have tried it report side effects such as anxiety, combativeness, increased heart rate, paranoia, agitation, and hallucinations after using the drugs. Other effects include vomiting and seizures. “Some of them are delusional or paranoid quickly after using the product,” Ryan says. “We’re seeing psychotic breaks in people that have no psychotic history.”

Because the drugs are so new, little research is available on their long-term effects.

“These compounds, we don’t know how they’re metabolized in the body. Every time they come out with a new one, we don’t know the effects or the long-term toxicity for years,” says Marilyn A. Huestis, PhD, of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Bethesda, Md. “There’s no quality control here.”

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