Synthetic Marijuana Kills

By  CBS NEWS/ August 10, 2011, 2:08 PM

"Synthetic marijuana" blamed for teen's death: What is it?

synthetic marijuana, Max Dobner
Synthetic marijuana
 / CBS
(CBS)They call it "synthetic marijuana," but experts say it may be more dangerous than the real thing.
How dangerous? A 19-year-old Auroro, Ill. man who got behind the wheel after smoking crashed his car into a house. He died. Max Dobner called his brother in a panic minutes before saying he had smoked a legal marijuana product sold as "potpourri," CBS affiliateWBBM reported in July. 
Dobner's friend who also smoked the product, called iAroma, and recently toldWBBM it "terrified" him.
"It was the worst experience of my life," the friend told WBBM. "I had seizures, blackouts. I thought I was going to die."
iAroma is one of many synthetic cannabinoid products sold on many web sites under fake-pot product lines called "potpourri." The products mimic marijuana's active ingredient, THC, and binds to similar receptors in the brain. Experts say the industry is unregulated, so it's tough to know what exactly is in the products teens can legally purchase online or in smoke shops and gas stations.
"The contents in the package are never the same - it's a very dangerous game," Dr. Robert Glatter, attending emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told CBS News in an email. He said smoking synthetic marijuana is like "playing Russian Roulette."
Just what's in this stuff? Likely a mixture of herbs, spices, and other chemicals, Dr. Glatter said, adding "It's really an unknown concoction when these products are produced." But what is known is young users are showing up to emergency rooms in record numbers.
Smoking synthetic cannabinoid products can cause hallucinations, nausea, vomiting, paranoid behavior, panic attacks, and elevated blood pressure, and potentially-fatal seizures, Glatter said.
Why aren't "potpourri" products illegal? Customs officials say when law enforcement tests and bans one of these synthetic marijuana products, new ones show up on the market overnight.
"It's a chemical compound, so they keep changing the chemicals trying to stay one step ahead of us," David Murphy, director of Chicago field operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Glatter offered a blunt warning for teens tempted by "potpourri."
"The effects of smoking synthetic marijuana are completely unpredictable - you are gambling with your health and future," he said. "Don't ever smoke these products."
© 2011 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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    'Spice' Or Synthetic Marijuana Linked To Psychosis, Brain, and Kidney Damage

    Synthetic marijuana or spice has been linked with brain damage, psychosis, and kidney failure (photo: Houston PD)
    Since I reported last summer about the dangers of K2/Spice, or synthetic marijuana, the news has gotten a lot worse.
    Robin Smith of Forest Hill, Maryland, has one of the saddest stories. At 15, her son Kyle experienced a sudden psychotic break after using synthetic marijuana.
    “I had a normal child on a Thursday and a not normal child on a Friday,” says Smith, who will tell her story to Anderson Cooper on an upcoming episode of CNN’s Anderson360. “My son came home from school, smoked K2, and took a loaded gun into the woods.”
    Two years later, Kyle, now 18, has been institutionalized 17 times for psychiatric care and has made 3 suicide attempts. Most recently, he underwent electroshock therapy at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, where he’s currently in outpatient treatment.
    Smith has a petition on where she is trying to raise awareness and support for tougher laws outlying synthetic marijuana, which is also commonly known as K2, Kush, herbal incense, and potpourri. Sold in neon-hued packets  with names like “Mr. Happy,” “Phantom Wicked Dreams,” “Scooby Snacks” and “Lava,” synthetic marijuana has become increasingly possible with preteens, teens and twenty-somethings, who think it’s safer than pot (and even legal) because you can buy it at gas stations, convenience stores, and head shops. (And absurdly easily online.)
    Spice, Stroke, and Brain Damage
    This is actually the second time a tragic story involving a teen and permanent damage from spice has made headlines. In February, 16-year-old Emily Bauer of Cyprus, Texas, suffered a series of strokes and was put into an induced coma after ingesting Spice at a party. CNN covered the case after Emily Bauer’s sister, Blake Harrison, wrote a desperate plea on CNN’s iReportdetailing her sister’s story and pleading with news organization to alert parents to the potential tragic results of spice use among teens
    Typical packaging for synthetic marijuana (photo: from retailer)
    Even after months of treatment, Emily Bauer is still blind, partially paralyzed, and suffers from severe cognitive impairment. The family has launched a charitable organization, Synthetic Awareness for Emily (SAFE) to focus attention on the issue.
    Spice and Kidney Damage
    These cases aren’t isolated, though. Also in February, the CDC issued an alert describing 16 cases of kidney damage from synthetic marijuana. The first warning came from Wyoming, where three patients were hospitalized with sever kidney damage; others came from Oregon, New York, Rhode Island, Oklahoma and Kansas. The kidney damage from many of these cases was very severe, five to the point of requiring dialysis.
    In December, 2012, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released a report showing that synthetic marijuana was responsible for 11,400 emergency room visits in one year. The vast majority of those admitted were between the ages of 12 and 29. Worse, the data used in the report were from 2010, when Spice didn’t have anywhere near the popularity it has now.
    Soon after the report came out, Anderson Cooper invited Dr. Ian Smith todiscuss the dangers of synthetic marijuana for teens and young people on his show Anderson Live.
    And back in 2011, before synthetic marijuana had received much media attention, Forbes reporter David Kroll reported on an article in Pediatricsdetailing the cases of three teenage boys in Texas who had heart attacks after smoking spice.
    Why Is Spice So Dangerous?
    Synthetic marijuana resembles its natural counterpart in the sense that it looks like a handful of green leaves and twigs – but that’s where the similarity ends. The leaves and twigs don’t come from Cannabis plants – they can be just about any herb (tea is often used) which has then been sprayed or soaked with a solution of synthetic chemicals. Spice hasn’t been associated with the extreme violence associated with the other news-making synthetic drug, Bath Salts, but by causing hallucinations and paranoia it can lead to dangerous behavior.
    Underground chemists make synthetic marijuana using a pharmacopia of artificial chemicals, most designated only by letter and numeric names: JWH-018, JWH-073, HU-210, M-694, CP-47,497 and other compounds of JWH. Synthetic marijuana sellers get around the law by putting “Not for human consumption” on the packages, a wink-wink warning consumers are expected to ignore.
    These chemicals were originally developed for a whose host of other purposes; JWH-18, for example, is used in fertilizers; JWH-018 is an analgesic, or painkiller, and UR-144 and XLR-11, new additions to Spice found in four of the kidney damage cases, are cyclopropylindoles, which are used in cancer treatment. Underground chemists are keeping one step ahead of the law by developing new versions of chemical compounds as they’re banned by states, the DEA and the FDA.
    In other words, when people smoke Spice, they’re exposing their brains to unidentified chemicals that haven’t been tested on humans or been deemed safe for human consumption. And some of these chemicals have the potential to cause long-term and even permanent health consequences. While some of the side effects reported from Spice are fairly mild, and similar to those from real marijuana, others are severe:
    • Paranoia
    • Hallucinations (sometimes violent ones)
    • Tremor
    • Seizures
    • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
    • Cardiac problems
    • Kidney Damage
    • Mental Illness
    Federal and state law enforcement agencies are trying to make spice illegal by banning the chemicals used to make it. last year, the Drug Enforcement Agency made 5 of the most common synthetic cannabinoid compounds illegal  and numerous states have passed laws making it a controlled substance. But it’s like a game of chase, with underground chemists forever in the lead as they develop new variations on these compounds.
    As is clear from the stories above, the story on teens and spice is still in the first chapters. I would like to hear from others with information about side effects from spice use; please add your comments below.
    Follow me on Twitter, @MelanieHaiken or find me on Facebook

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