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Synthetic Marijuana Symptoms: How To Know If Your Loved One is Using

By Nichole Tucker, MA
The use of synthetic marijuana can lead to harsher symptoms in comparison to natural cannabis.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), synthetic marijuana or synthetic cannabinoids are mind-altering chemicals made by humans that are sprayed onto dried shredded plants which can be smoked or vaporized. The use of synthetic marijuana, also known as Spice or K2, is unlike natural marijuana because of its more severe side effects.

Symptoms of Synthetic Marijuana Use

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies synthetic marijuana as dangerous due to its neurological, psychiatric, and physical side effects. 

“Synthetic cannabinoids can be much more potent. For example, an active ingredient, JWH-018, is five times more potent than THC. It is easy to overdose on synthetic marijuana. The negative effects include nausea and vomiting, confusion, intense anxiety, poor coordination, seizures, palpitations, and death,” Edythe London, PhD, Professor-in-Residence in Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles tells WebMD Connect to Care. 

Neurological Symptoms. According to a 2016 review published in the journal Current Psychiatry Reports, the neurological symptoms of synthetic marijuana use are:

  • Agitation
  • Sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Incoordination
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Stroke
  • Seizures

Psychiatric Symptoms. In a 2018 study published by The Mental Health Clinician, the psychiatric symptoms of using synthetic marijuana can include:

  • Hallucinations 
  • Delusions 
  • Psychosis 
  • Violent behavior 
  • Suicidal thoughts

Physical Symptoms. In terms of the physical side-effects, using synthetic marijuana can take its toll on your heart in particular, according to a 2017 research published in Nature Reviews Cardiology. The physical side-effects of using synthetic marijuana include:

  • Rapid breathing 
  • Fast heart rate 
  • Hypertension 
  • Severe nausea and vomiting 
  • Chest pain

Synthetic marijuana is also an addictive drug that can lead to many problems when used long-term. Right now, experts are still researching the long-term impacts of synthetic marijuana use. According to the CDC, cardiovascular issues are a major risk factor when using synthetic marijuana for a long period of time. But, without solid data on what the drug can do over time, the CDC still strongly recommends encouraging your loved one to stop taking the drug immediately. 

There are certain individuals who are at a higher risk of experiencing severe synthetic marijuana side-effects, including people with pre-existing mental illnesses and those who previously abused other recreational drugs. 

Get Help Now

If you or a loved one is struggling with synthetic marijuana addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is another resource that may be helpful.

Treatment & Resources for Marijuana Addiction