Synthetic marijuana, with nicknames such as “Mr. Smiley,” “Blaze,” and “Spice,” continues to be blamed on hospitalizations of at least three teens who have smoked or ingested the fake pot looking to get a legal high, based on a brand new report.
The substance is created through a mixture of plant and herbal materials and sprayed with chemicals. And up to now, this relatively recent drug continues to be sold legally in supermarkets round the country as potpourri or herbal incense. Perhaps more troubling, the medication is apparently still available on the web.
Joanna Cohen, an urgent situation medicine physician at Children´s National Medical Center in Washington, DC, told USA Today there was hardly any information available on it in medical literature when it first started making waves.
With the instances that have been reported, namely three teen ER visits, a number of visible “telltale signs” are now known, including sweating, agitation, speech trouble, aggression and restlessness, and “euphoric and psychoactive effects” frequently related to traditional marijuana use.
Given the growing popularity of this drug with teens and teenagers, “it´s important to share the data we have with other doctors and help parents and schools be on the lookout” for symptoms, which require immediate medical assistance, said Cohen, lead author of the report, published today in the journal Pediatrics.
The National Institute on Substance abuse filed a study in November stating it found nearly one out of nine high school seniors had tried the synthetic marijuana previously year, second simply to the number of teens who had used marijuana.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported that the synthetic marijuana started to become an issue in ’09 and quickly grew in popularity. It said hello has handled nearly 7,000 related calls in 2011, a lot more than double the amount number received this year.
In the latest report, Cohen and colleagues presented three case studies of teenagers who visited the ER after ingesting the fake pot. Each teen suffered similar symptoms, such as rapid heartbeat and high blood pressure level. The 3 were treated and finally released in the hospital.
“We became worried about it after seeing these teens, so when we researched the literature, we realized there’s very little out there about the effects of these compounds,” said Cohen. “We desired to publish these case reports mostly because we desired to share the information we had gathered to allow the medical community understand what we were seeing.”
She said it is difficult to state if the symptoms experienced by the 3 teens is normal with this particular drug because there is so much we don´t learn about it yet. “The big danger is that kids´ brains are still developing and that we don´t know about the long-term effects. It can have serious consequences such as memory loss, [mental] deficits, and psychosis with long-term, repeated use.”
Federal lawmakers have yet to pass a bill banning the sales of fake marijuana, but at least 39 states in the union now utilize their own bans, based on the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Drug Enforcement Administration earlier this year extended its ban on five chemicals accustomed to make the synthetic drug. Its one-year ban, which is set to run out shortly, puts a Schedule I classification on those substances, meaning those are the most restricted under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I drugs are found to have a high potential for abuse with no accepted medical uses.
Cohen said urine drug screens are useless since the compounds don´t appear in them, “so comprehensive lab work is essential to confirm use.” She added when the teens hadn´t told medical staff which substances they had used, it is likely an analysis and cause of symptoms would go unknown.
“There is hardly any available to test of these substances. The tests aren´t routinely available and are costly,” Bruce Goldberger, professor and director of toxicology at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville, told Kim Carollo at ABC News.
“We sometimes have no idea what we´re coping with,” added Dr. Corey Slovis, chair of emergency medicine at Vanderbilt University Clinic in Nashville. “We may visit a patient who is extremely agitated with symptoms that could be because of another type of drug.”
Slovis said the compounds found in synthetic marijuana are much stronger than real marijuana, and the bigger problem is that it is created using different ingredients. Those ingredients make it difficult to determine specifically which agent or agents accounts for symptoms.
David Rotenberg, v . p . of treatment at Caron Treatment Centers in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, told Denise Mann of WebMD that he’s worried about the increase in use of these compounds and the number of kids who are finding themselves hospitalized as a result.
There are so many unknowns, he said. “You don´t know what you are taking, or what dose you are getting, and just what the little one is predisposed to.”
These medicine is perhaps even more attractive to kids who are already abusing other drugs and alcohol. “Kids who’ve drug problems and therefore are put on probation or are in an outpatient treatment program gravitate toward this stuff because it doesn´t appear in all urine screens,” he said.
“This stuff is bad news,” he added.
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