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Substance Abuse

Synthetic Marijuana Use Triggers More Hospitalizations in New York

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The thought that New York hospitals take in hundreds of patients a day may sound normal, but not if it’s because of only one cause.

The New York City Health Department issued a statement via a news release, saying that synthetic marijuana has caused 160 people to be sent to emergency rooms in the state within a nine-day period. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that apart from the increase in ER visits, calls received by poison control center have risen as well. “Synthetic drugs are anything but harmless, and this rash of severe health emergencies across the state is direct proof,” Cuomo said.

The city’s health department reiterates that synthetic pot in its various forms — most notably Spice and K2 — is illegal. Dr. Mary Bassett, who works as the city’s Health Commissioner, said that the risk of using synthetic cannabis lies on the fact that the illicit product contains unidentified substances that may be harmful to human health. “There’s no way of knowing exactly what synthetic marijuana contains,” Bassett added.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has frequently warned the public against using synthetic marijuana, saying that some of its side effects include abnormally high heart rate, vomiting, anxiety and hallucinations.

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Substance Abuse

Two Des Moines Students Hospitalized After Smoking Synthetic Marijuana

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Two teenage boys from East High School were taken to hospital after becoming ill from smoking synthetic marijuana, the Des Moines Register reports.

According to police, one of the students became nauseated in class after reportedly smoking a substance called Red Devil before school while the other student was caught with a similar synthetic product. Both were looking pale and had elevated heart rates when taken to Iowa Lutheran Hospital at about 7:45 a.m. on Feb. 25.

Des Moines Public Schools spokesman Phil Roeder said the two 14-year-old boys have already been discharged from the hospital, but they are facing suspensions for violating the school district’s drug policy. It is believed that the students had legally obtained the synthetic marijuana they smoked at a local store, Roeder noted.

Although the Iowa Legislature has banned certain synthetic marijuana products, some manufacturers are evading the law by slightly altering the chemical makeup of the products.

“They’ll alter their recipe a little so it still has the desired effect but isn’t technically illegal,” said Sgt. Jason Halifax, a Des Moines police spokesman. “The concern then becomes: What the heck is in this stuff? You’re really taking a chance when you smoke this crap.”

Roeder said this isn’t the first time they heard of students getting hospitalized after smoking synthetic marijuana. In the past, multiple students in the district were given medical aid after smoking similar products, which are often advertised as bath salts or incense. He and the rest of school district officials hope the legislature will address the currently available products that skirt the law banning synthetic marijuana.

Health & Wellness Substance Abuse

CDC Report: Synthetic Marijuana Use Led to Serious Kidney Damage in 16 People

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A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified 16 cases of acute kidney injury associated with synthetic marijuana use in 6 states last year.

According to the Feb. 15 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the cases reported came from the following states: Wyoming (4), Oregon (6), New York (2), Oklahoma (2), Rhode Island (1), and Kansas (1).

All 16 people, aged 15–33, visited emergency departments and subsequently were hospitalized. Most of them experienced nausea, vomiting, and abdominal or back pain. None of the patients reported preexisting renal dysfunction or use of medication that might have caused renal problems, but their toxicology reports indicated they had all used synthetic cannabinoid products.

Although none of the patients died, five patients required hemodialysis, a treatment to remove waste products from the blood, and four patients received corticosteroids.

The CDC report followed a recent University of Alabama at Birmingham study which reported four cases that directly linked acute kidney injury with synthetic marijuana use. UAB researchers suggested that physicians inquire about the use of synthetic marijuana when evaluating patients with acute kidney injury, especially in young adults with negative urine drug screens.

Substance Abuse

Texas Teen Suffered Several Severe Strokes After Smoking Synthetic Marijuana

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A Cypress, Texas teenage girl suffered several severe strokes and nearly died after smoking synthetic marijuana, also known as “K2″ or “Spice.”

Emily Bauer and her friends reportedly purchased the synthetic weed packaged as “potpourri” at a gas station. Emily’s stepfather, Tommy Bryant, told CNN that the straight-A and B sophomore developed persistent migraines before ending up in the ICU early on December 8. When doctors performed an MRI on Emily, they found that the then 16-year-old girl had suffered several severe strokes.

“I’d never have thought we’d be in this situation. If she had bought it off the street or from a corner, that’s one thing, but she bought it from a convenience store,” Bryant said.

Emily had to undergo an emergency surgery which involved drilling a hole in her skull to insert a tube to relieve pressure and drain excess fluid. After the procedure, Emily’s family realized the extent of the damage to her brain.

Tonya Bauer, Emily’s mother, wrote the following in her Facebook journal: “We met with Neurology team who showed us Emily’s brain images. They told us that all white areas on images were dead. It looked to us at least 70% of the images were white.”

More than a month after that life-changing event, Emily, now blind and mostly paralyzed, continues to fight to make progress, her sister Blake Harrison wrote to CNN iReport.

Emily’s family has started a nonprofit organization called Synthetic Awareness For Emily (S.A.F.E) — the goal of which is to educate families, as well as teachers and doctors, about the dangers and warning signs of synthetic marijuana use.

Synthetic marijuana refers to a wide variety of herbal mixtures sprayed with chemicals that mimic the effects of marijuana. It is often labeled “not for human consumption” and marketed as a “safe” alternative to cannabis. In addition to K2 or Spice, synthetic marijuana is known by several other street names, such as fake weed, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, and Moon Rocks. A recent report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) linked synthetic marijuana to over 11,000 drug-related emergency department visits in 2010.

Dr. Melinda Campopiano, a medical officer with SAMHSA, said common side effects to smoking synthetic marijuana include bloodshot eyes, disturbed perceptions and a change in mood.

“People can become very agitated or can become unresponsive — conscious but not reacting normal to situations,” Campopiano explained.

The synthetic marijuana user may also appear paranoid or describe hallucinations. Some of the more potentially serious effects of synthetic marijuana smoking include an elevated heart rate and elevated blood pressure.

Substance Abuse

Researchers Say Regular Use of Marijuana May Cause Unusual Gastro Disorder

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Two new case studies suggest that habitual use of marijuana may lead to cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, a disorder characterized by severe nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

The two separate reports are presented today at the American College of Gastroenterology’s (ACG) 77th Annual Scientific meeting in Las Vegas. According to the researchers, those who regularly use marijuana, natural or synthetic, are likely to develop this little-known condition which pose a  serious burden to the health care system because  it requires physicians to use costly diagnostic tests and ineffective treatments in an effort to find the cause of a patient’s symptoms and provide relief.

“Most healthcare providers are unaware of the link between marijuana use and these episodes of cyclic nausea and vomiting so they are not asking about natural or synthetic cannabinoid use when a patient comes to the emergency room or their doctor’s office with these symptoms,” Dr. Ana Maria Crissien-Martinez, of Scripps Green Hospital and Clinic in San Diego, said in a Scienceblog.com news feature.

Dr. Crissien-Martinez co-authored the case report, “Marijuana: Anti-Emetic or Pro-Emetic,” which described a series of nine patients with cannabinoid hyperemesis at Scripps Green Hospital. The patients’ average age was 30 years-old and 88 percent of them used cannabis daily.

“Patients who use cannabis whether natural or in synthetic form called ‘Spice’ also don’t realize their unexplained episodes of cyclic nausea and vomiting may be a result of this use, with some increasing their cannabis use because they may think it will help alleviate their symptoms—and it actually makes them worse,” said Dr. Crissien-Martinez. “The only resolution is cannabis cessation.”

The other case report, completed by  a team of researchers from the Walter Reed Walter Reed National Military Medical Center/Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD., may be the first reported case of cannabinoid hyperemesis attributed to synthetic marijuana.

Researchers from both case studies agree that patients frequently have multiple hospital, clinic and emergency room visits with extensive negative work-up to include imaging studies, endoscopies, and laboratory testing before they are finally diagnosed with the condition.

Substance Abuse

Spice, K2, Other Synthetic Cannabinoids Can Cause Death

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A report from the American College of Emergency Physicians provides evidence to support claims that Spice, K2 and other synthetic cannabinoids are bad for the health – and that they may prove to be fatal.

The results of a research, published online on May 8 in Annals of Emergency Medicine, indicated that based on information from the National Poison Data System, there were 1,898 reports of poisonings after inhalation of synthetic cannabinoids during a nine-month period in 2010.

Lead study author Dr. Christopher Hoyte of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver shared the following insights: “Users reported racing thoughts, palpitations, anxiety, paranoia and psychosis… Although the drug is legal, it obviously has potential to cause harm, and one patient in our group actually died.”

The poison control centers also reported such effects as agitation, vomiting, confusion, and hallucinations.

The most common reported effect of synthetic cannabinoid use was irregular heartbeat, with a 58-year-old man succumbing to cardiac arrest. In addition, 52 patients were reported to have experienced seizures, which included two cases of status epilepticus.

Managing synthetic drug abuse has proved to be a challenge, due to the number of varieties of synthetic marijuana that are available, as well as the number of chemicals in its ingredient list. Manufacturers also continuously make changes to their formula in order to sidestep the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which has issued a temporary ban on the five main chemicals used in the manufacture of synthetic marijuana.

Substance Abuse

Study Focuses on Dangers of Synthetic Marijuana Use

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Concern over synthetic marijuana, which carry such brand names as “Spice,” “K2,” “Mr. Smiley,” “Red X Dawn,” and “Blaze” continue to increase, and a new report in Pediatrics highlights why these concerns are valid.

Researcher Johanna Cohen, M.D. and emergency room doctor at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. shared in a statement: “Parents and teens need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of synthetic marijuana use and know that it is out there.”

Synthetic marijuana products produce the same high as marijuana, when these are ingested or smoked. Unlike marijuana, they were relatively easy to procure, as they were available in convenience stores and gas stations, at least until recently. Five chemicals found in Spice and K2 have been banned by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); however, these substances could still be bought from the Internet.

Most teens are attracted to using these drugs because they are easy to get, and could not yet be detected in most drug tests.

Dr. Cohen shared further: “The big danger is that kids’ brains are still developing and 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.”

In an e-mail, Arthur T. Dean, chairman and CEO of Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, wrote: “The truth is these products are a guise for a very scary and potent drug. We know from our members across the country that K2 and Spice are sending kids to the emergency room, causing aggressive and unusual behavior, and even suicides.