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Synthetic Marijuana Overdose

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

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What is a Synthetic Marijuana Overdose?

Synthetic marijuana is the latest drug craze, and it is especially popular among young people who mistakenly believe it is safe and risk-free. This designer drug goes by many names, including Spice and K2. Synthetic marijuana is an artificial drug that is designed to simulate the effects of THC found naturally in marijuana. The synthetic cannabinoids present in fake weed, however, are often far more potent than natural cannabinoids. In fact, synthetic marijuana products often have entirely distinct effects from natural marijuana. Because synthetic marijuana products are so under researched, these effects can be dangerous and difficult to predict. While it is difficult to overdose on natural marijuana, this is not the case with fake weed. In fact, hospital visits attributed to synthetic marijuana are on the rise. A synthetic marijuana overdose can be dangerous, and in some cases it can be fatal.

Young people often turn to K2, Spice, and other synthetic marijuana products because these drugs are legal. In fact, they are widely available in smoke shops, gas stations, and other everyday stores. The packaging and labels on synthetic marijuana products are often deceptive. In fact, they are often sold as an “herbal smoke mix.” This can lead some young people to believe that they are not drugs at all, or that they are no more dangerous than incense. Since synthetic marijuana is legal, widely available, and difficult to detect on drug tests, it is understandable that synthetic marijuana abuse is on the rise.

While the legal status of synthetic marijuana may encourage young people to believe the drug is safe, the reality is that synthetic marijuana is simply taking advantage of a legal loophole. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is continually trying to take these experimental designer drugs off the shelf, but as soon as they do so several new ones are developed. While the original synthetic marijuana brands have become illegal to sell, new designer drugs have emerged to replace them.

As of today, there are hundreds of synthetic marijuana brands being sold. The government can hardly keep up. To make matters worse, each time a new synthetic marijuana product is developed, the chemical formula is changed. As a result, each new synthetic marijuana product moves further and further away from its original inspiration, natural marijuana. The effects of these newer products can be very unpredictable and dangerous, with a high likelihood of adverse effects, including substance use disorders, overdoses, psychotic episodes, and death.

Effects of Synthetic Marijuana Overdoses

While it is difficult to overdose on natural marijuana, synthetic marijuana overdoses are not rare. In fact, overdosing on synthetic marijuana is possible even for a person who just tries the drug once. The reason for this is that the chemicals contained in synthetic marijuana products are not regulated. It is difficult to say with any certainty which or how much of the hundreds of synthetic cannabinoids are present in a single dose. Furthermore, many synthetic marijuana products contain unknown contaminants. Using synthetic marijuana is like playing the lottery — a lottery where the only possible result is losing.

Another difference between synthetic marijuana and natural marijuana is that synthetic marijuana has zero benefits. While natural marijuana can be addictive and dangerous, the fact remains that it does have some medical benefits: marijuana can be used to stimulate appetite for people undergoing chemotherapy, it can alleviate anxiety and depression, and it plays an important role in religious ceremonies in some cultures. Synthetic marijuana does not offer those some benefits. Moreover, there is anecdotal evidence showing that the “high” it offers is less euphoric than the high from natural weed. Marijuana typically offers recreational users physical and mental pleasure, and altered sensations that can feel enlightening. With synthetic marijuana, it is far more likely for people at best to feel merely confused and numb.

When a person overdoses on synthetic marijuana, the physical and cognitive effects can be catastrophic. The rate at which young people are experiencing these overdoses is increasing every year. In 2011, shortly after these drugs appeared on the market, there were 28,531 emergency department visits directly attributable to synthetic cannabinoids. Synthetic marijuana overdoses can in some cases be fatal. Signs and symptoms of a synthetic marijuana overdose include:

  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Numbness
  • Memory loss
  • Inability to speak or move
  • Unconsciousness
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Violent or aggressive behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Depersonalization

These symptoms can vary considerably from person to person, and to a large extent they depend upon the specific synthetic marijuana product being consumed. Other factors that determine the type and intensity of synthetic marijuana overdose symptoms a person will experience include how much they consumed, the current state of their physical and mental health, and whether or not they have a history of substance abuse problems.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a synthetic marijuana overdose, it is essential to get medical treatment right away. Individuals who are overdosing on Spice, K2, or another synthetic marijuana product can be a danger to themselves and endanger others as well if they do not receive the care they need.

Recovering from Synthetic Marijuana Addiction

While it is crucial to get immediate medical care after a synthetic marijuana overdose, in the long term that is not enough. When an individual has a synthetic marijuana addiction, they are likely to return to synthetic marijuana abuse no matter what the consequences are. It is not a problem to be solved by individual will power. In fact, many people who suffer from addiction can clearly see the harms that their synthetic marijuana abuse has inflicted in their lives, and they may recognize a need to stop using synthetic cannabinoids. However, addiction causes structural changes in a person’s brain that makes it impossible for them to manage their own substance abuse without outside help.

Design for Recovery is a structured sober living home located in West Los Angeles. At Design for Recovery, young men have a safe and supportive environment where they can recover from substance abuse, connect with other like-minded men with similar struggles, and rebuild their lives. Research proves that the peer support people obtain while residing in a sober living home is a major factor in long term recovery. Moreover, our staff help residents to develop the skills and tools they need to face triggers and other challenging life events without resorting to synthetic marijuana or other drugs. Residents work daily to address the underlying issues behind their addictions while taking positive steps toward a better life.

If you are ready to end the cycle of synthetic marijuana abuse and addiction, and you are ready for a new way of life, reach out to Design for Recovery today.


Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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