Synthetic Marijuana Veils Serious Health Risk

Teens are among the top users of synthetic marijuana products like Spice.

By David Newsom

As cannabis law reform proposals continue to make local headlines, another and potentially more dangerous substance is leaving its mark on the San Diego community. A synthetic cannabis product popularly known as Spice has infiltrated the nation under the guise of “herbal incense;” and according to researchers at the American Psychiatric Association, the chemicals used to mimic a marijuana-like high can cause psychosis in some users.

Because Spice is easy to obtain and as yet untraceable through conventional urine tests, use of the product among members of the military has become a mounting concern for government officials and medical doctors alike.  Last month, the

Los Angeles Times

reported that ten patients at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego were hospitalized for psychosis after using Spice – and their symptoms, which ranged from auditory and visual hallucinations to paranoia, delusions and suicidal thoughts, lasted anywhere from five days to three months.

San Diego-based naval physicians


that, unlike THC (the quick-bonding, short-lived substance in marijuana that gives users a temporary high), the chemicals used to make Spice -- such as JWH-018, CP-47 and cannabicyclohexanol -- are more potent and bind themselves more permanently to receptors in the body. Not only do the drugs maintain a longer-lasting effect on the brain and other organs, they also take longer to bind to receptors than THC does – thus placing users at a high overdose risk due to delayed recognition of the drug’s effects.

Treat and prevent synthetic drug abuse – right here in San Diego

Besides military personnel, drug rehabilitation patients are another high-risk group for the side-effects of Spice. Without tests in place to monitor for use of the synthetic drug, recovering addicts could potentially access and use Spice during treatment. Teens looking for an accessible high are also prone to seeking out Spice and other synthetic marijuana products with names like K2, Blaze and Red X Dawn – and despite both the known and as yet unknown health risks involved, the government has yet to implement an enforceable ban on the substances.

With products like Spice available online and, in some cases, even in liquor and convenience stores, misuse and abuse by teens and other at-risk users has reached an alarming rate. Rehabilitation facilities have already seen cases of teens addicted to the dangerous chemicals in Spice, reinforcing the fact that more information on the drug is necessary not only to enforce a ban but also to discourage use and treat affected users.

One of the keys to defeating addiction is the ability to overcome the desire to use. “Fake” drugs like Spice trade on the notion that users can have it both ways – stop using illegal drugs and still get high. At Rancho L’Abri, we understand that simply quitting isn’t the crux of the matter: and that’s why we offer a continuum of care here in the heart of San Diego that emphasizes full-spectrum recovery. When individuals learn to live free of addiction among the same urban influences, temptations and stressors that influenced their path to addiction in the first place, they become empowered in ways unimaginable in more retreat-like settings. As a community dedicated to greater health, safety and security, it behooves us to support them – and to fight the influence of under-regulated drugs on behalf of those not yet able to resist on their own.

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