It’s a dangerous trend showing no signs of slowing down. ER doctors see the fallout from synthetic marijuana.
“It never was meant for human consumption. And because of that, we don’t know what that chemical compound can do long term. Short term, we’ve seen what happens. They become tachycardic. That means their heart rate gets very quick, their blood pressure rises, they become paranoid,” says Dr. Timothy Dougherty, toxicologist and emergency physician with Lee Memorial Health System.
More than 100 different compounds are in circulation, according to the DEA. Drugs are sold online, at some convenience stores, gas stations, and head shops. Often labeled incense, potpourri, or herbal supplements, these packets of herbs are sprayed with synthetic chemicals. A common street name is K2.
“Obviously there are many people that smoke marijuana. And we don’t see them coming to the emergency department. If we see one person a month, that’s a rarity. But people who are smoking these synthetic marijuanas, we’re seeing them a lot more frequently, because of how fast their heart rate is going, how high their blood pressure is when we find them. Because they get paranoid, because they get agitated. We have had to admit people in the hospital and give them medication to calm them down,” says Dr. Dougherty.
In just over a year calls to poison control hotlines nationwide more than doubled. And it’s expected to go up again this year. At the same time, the age of users is going down.
“High schoolers. Teenagers are probably the youngest; I haven’t seen anyone in grade school with it, luckily,” says Dr. Dougherty.
A nationwide survey found 12% of high school seniors admitted to buying or trying synthetic marijuana. Their experimenting could be a dangerous lesson.
“Long-term marijuana use does affect the brain. So I can’t imagine that something that’s THC-like, the long-term won’t affect, won’t have permanent affects on the brain,” says Dr. Dougherty.
It’s becoming a growing problem, especially among a population who’s still growing.