E.D. visits relating to synthetic cannabinoids skyrocket

E.D.+Visits

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E.D. Visits

Despite the major differences between synthetic cannabinoids and marijuana, people are increasingly turning to the synthetic drug in search of a legal high, but the consequences could be dangerous.

The total number of emergency department visits related to synthetic cannabinoids more than doubled between 2010–2011, according to the Oct. 16 Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality report. In 2010, there were 11,406 emergency department visits involving synthetic cannabinoids, which increased to 28,531 visits in 2011, the report stated.

According to the report, the number of E.D. visits related to synthetic cannabinoids for people aged 12–17 also doubled between 2010 and 2011 from 3,780 visits to 7,584 visits, while the number of visits related to synthetic cannabinoids for those aged 18–20 quadrupled from 1,881 visits to 8,212 visits.

There are a number of negative effects associated with using synthetic cannabinoids, including severe agitation, anxiety, nausea, racing heartbeat, increased blood pressure and hallucinations, according to the report.

The increase in E.D. visits related to the drug can be attributed to its increased availability and the frequent practice of mixing synthetic cannabinoids with other drugs, according to Peter Delany, director of the CBHSQ Office at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health

Services Administration.

“There is an interesting phenomenon in terms of where people get the drugs,” Delany said. “You can buy [it easily] over the Internet and in head shops, and it’s ‘legal’ because they use marketing techniques saying they are not for consumption.”

Synthetic cannabinoids are often marketed as legal marijuana or natural herbal blends, which is misleading and dangerous given the effects of synthetic cannabinoids, Delany said.

According to the report, synthetic cannabinoids are man-made chemicals applied to plant materials that are not marijuana but intended to produce the same psychological effects.

As such, many people misguidedly consider synthetic cannabinoids synonymous with marijuana, said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project.

“It’s just like calling grape juice synthetic wine when it’s not wine,” Tvert said.

Although synthetic cannabinoids can have more potent effects than marijuana, many people use 

the drug as an alternative because marijuana is illegal and most synthetic cannabinoids will not show up in drug tests.

It is common for people using synthetic cannabinoids to mix them with other drugs, such as alcohol, pharmaceuticals and even marijuana that the drugs are sprayed onto, according to Delany. Mixing these substances in addition to increased use of the drug contributes to the number of E.D. visits, he said.

“Marijuana is a less harmful substance than [even] alcohol, and it’s a shame that we have laws steering people toward using more harmful substances,” Tvert said.

Young people aged 12–20 are the most common users of synthetic cannabinoids, Delany said.

“I think parents need to be educated about synthetic cannabinoids,” Delany said. “They need to pay attention to online purchases and be aware of what their kids are doing online because this stuff is available online.”

Delany said the first step in reducing the use of synthetic cannabinoids is promoting prevention through education about the dangers of using the drugs.

Making synthetic cannabinoids illegal is a difficult task because their chemical composition can be changed very easily, so every time a law is made that prevents the drug, manufacturers can change its chemical formula to get around that, he said.

“They’re just not safe and we don’t know enough about them, and every time we figure out how to say this is an illegal substance, somebody just changed the chemical compound and it becomes a legal drug again,” Delany said.