Is Your Teen Hooked on Synthetic Marijuana? Here’s How to Tell

Synthetic marijuana — also known as K2 or Spice — consists of vegetable matter doused in chemicals that, when smoked, are designed to create effects similar to those of THC, the active chemical compound in marijuana. It’s legal, and is marketed in convenience stores and gas stations as herbal incense or potpourri marked “not for human consumption.”

Synthetic marijuana’s negative effects include seizures, psychotic episodes, self-harming, kidney failure and even death. It remains popular among teens who think its legal status means it’s safe. Here’s how to tell if your teen is abusing synthetic marijuana — before it’s too late.

What Chemicals Are Found in Synthetic Marijuana?

Synthetic marijuana was originally treated with the chemical compounds JWH-018, JWH-200, JWH-073 and CP 47,497. These chemical compounds have been illegal in the U.S. since March 1, 2011. Manufacturers of synthetic marijuana skirt the law by using different chemical formulas in their products. Some of these chemicals are among those used in cancer drugs, fertilizers and prescription painkillers. The CDC has linked the chemical compound methanone, which is used in synthetic marijuana, to kidney failure and death in at least 16 people.

What Are the Side Effects of Smoking K2 or Spice?

Though even real marijuana isn’t safe, experts agree the side effects of smoking synthetic marijuana are more severe. In 2012, 5,000 people ended up in the ER after suffering negative side effects of synthetic marijuana exposure. The side effects include:

  • Rapid heart beat
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle spasms
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal thoughts and actions
  • Kidney failure
  • Death

The chemicals in synthetic marijuana are known to have a powerfully negative effect on multiple body systems. Because manufacturers keep changing the chemical formulas of their products to keep a step ahead of the law, it’s impossible to know what dangerous compounds may be found in any given packet of synthetic marijuana.

How Can You Tell If Your Teen Is Hooked?

If your teen has become addicted to synthetic marijuana, you will notice many of the behavior changes that accompany any form of substance abuse disorder. Your teen may become secretive and engage in suspicious behaviors. He or she may suddenly start hanging around with a new group of friends, start hanging out in new places and acquire a new set of hobbies. He or she may suddenly start getting in trouble at school or with the law.

Grooming and personal hygiene may take a nosedive. Poor academic performance, including declining school attendance, may become an issue. Your teen may start asking for money more often, even resorting to telling lies or stealing to get the cash they need to buy drugs. Your teen may start using incense or room deodorizers to hide the smell of synthetic marijuana smoke. You may find drug paraphernalia — including rolling papers, pipes and lighters — among your teen’s possessions.

The physical signs of intoxication with synthetic marijuana include excessive perspiration, aggressiveness, inability to speak, restlessness and agitation. Your teen may also exhibit signs of psychoactive effects, like unexplained laughter or bizarre behavior. If you think your teen is using synthetic marijuana, seek help right away.


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