Synthetic Marijuana Abuse Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Originally marketed to simulate the high induced by marijuana, synthetic marijuana, also known as K2, Spice, or Potpourri, is an illicit substance that is composed of man-made chemicals. With a high that causes feelings of relaxation, detachment from surroundings, and elevated mood, K2 is typically inhaled, smoked, or injected by users of this drug. Synthetic marijuana, of which was said to be a legal and safe form of marijuana, includes chemicals that are banned in many states as several individuals who have used this substance died after experiencing complications with their health.

In addition to physical health concerns, there are a number of mental health issues that can be brought on after using K2. Many reports of people experiencing psychotic episodes have surfaced after individuals using this drug just one time. Because of the harm that this substance can cause, treatment to cease synthetic marijuana use is often necessary. Failing to seek care for a substance abuse problem such as this could increase a person’s chances for a life cut short. Luckily, there are options for care available that can help people overcome a synthetic marijuana abuse problem and address any and all underlying concerns that may have contributed to this life-threatening form of substance abuse.

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Estimates pertaining to synthetic marijuana use have recently been made available due to the number of people requiring emergency medical care after using this drug. Hospitals in the United States report cases of K2 use among patients as being up 200% after emergency rooms saw an upsurge in cases of overdose from synthetic marijuana. Despite bans on the chemicals used to make this substance, the popularity of this dangerous and illicit drug is on the rise and, sadly, the number of individuals experiencing health risks due to K2 is also increasing.

Causes and Risk Factors for Synthetic Marijuana Use

The reasons why some people use and or abuse drugs can vary person-to-person. However, many addiction specialists and experts in the field of mental health believe that there are a number of factors that can cause an individual to develop a substance abuse problem. The following elaborations extrapolate on why and how a person comes to use drugs, such as synthetic marijuana:

Genetic: If a person has a family history of substance abuse or addiction, it is probable that he or she will use or abuse drugs and/or alcohol as well. Because substance abuse can be found among individuals who share similar genes, experts have deduced that a problem with substances, such as synthetic marijuana, can be inherited from one’s biological parents.

Physical: Since synthetic marijuana’s chemical make-up is designed to mimic the effects of marijuana, experts believe that K2 affects a person’s brain similar to the way marijuana does. The areas of the brain that govern an individual’s ability to concentrate, maintain coordination, form and store memories, and interpret the senses correctly are hindered when an individual uses synthetic marijuana. Additionally, it is believed that K2 has the ability to slow a person’s cognitive abilities and capacity to experience pleasure. What is not yet known, is if these effects on an individual’s brain are permanent if synthetic marijuana is regularly used.

Environmental: When a person has a personal history of exposure to certain, and sometimes extreme, environmental stressors, there is a higher chance that he or she will use or abuse substances, such as synthetic marijuana. With specific regards to K2, environmental or circumstantial stress, coupled with easy access to K2, can lead a person to use and/or abuse this drug. Furthermore, if an individual experiences pressure from peers to use synthetic marijuana, there is an increased likelihood that he or she will succumb to said pressure and begin using K2.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Being of younger age
  • Lack of parental involvement
  • Easy access to synthetic marijuana
  • Pressure from peers to use synthetic marijuana
  • Exposure to violence or crime
  • Personal history of substance use or abuse
  • Pre-existing mental health condition or conditions
  • Family history of substance use
  • Family history of mental illness

Signs and Symptoms of Synthetic Marijuana Use

The telltale signs and symptoms of synthetic marijuana abuse can vary. However, there are a number of behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial indicators that suggest a person is under the influence or has been using K2. If you suspect that a friend or loved one is using this perilous substance, it is important to note the presence of any of the following symptoms and assist the person you care for in seeking the care he or she needs:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Increased energy
  • Lack of energy
  • Aggressive outbursts
  • Poor academic performance
  • Slowed speech
  • Impaired occupational functioning
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Catatonic behavior

Physical symptoms:

  • Profuse sweating
  • Headaches
  • Higher body temperature
  • Muscle spasms
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Numbness in extremities
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Chest pains
  • Panic attacks

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Disorientation
  • Inability to form or store memories
  • Paranoia
  • Feeling out of body
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Psychosis
  • Irritability
  • Depressed mood
  • Agitation
  • Unpredictable shifts in mood
  • Increased anxiety
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Synthetic Marijuana Use

The chemical make-up of K2 frequently changes as regulations to control this substance become more rigid. Because of this, it is difficult for mental health and medical experts to know the full scope of the effect of this dangerous drug. Based on current, more short-term findings, the listed effects are likely to occur if a person uses and/or abuses synthetic marijuana; effects can be avoided if treatment is received for a substance abuse problem of this kind:

  • Tremors
  • Stroke
  • Coma
  • Paralysis
  • Family discord
  • Increased interaction with the legal system
  • Increased conflict with friends and loved ones
  • Inability to fulfill obligations and/or responsibilities
  • Development of certain cancers
  • High blood pressure
  • Development of another mental illness or illnesses
  • Academic failure
  • Loss of employment
  • Vital organ damage
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack
  • Respiratory problems
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Suicidal attempts
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Many people with substance abuse problems are battling symptoms synonymous with a mental health condition. In fact, a problem with a substance, such as synthetic marijuana, can start when symptoms of a mental illness or illnesses become so distressing that drugs become the primary method for coping with said symptoms. Additionally, many mental health disorders are known to be triggered by mind-altering substances, thus leading to the diagnosis of a mental health condition and substance use disorder at the same time. The following mental illnesses are those that are commonly diagnosed in those who abuse drugs, such as K2:

  • Polysubstance use disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Conduct disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Depressive disorders

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal: When an individual is a habitual or regular user of synthetic marijuana, it is not uncommon for withdrawal symptoms to manifest when use of this substance stops. In more severe cases, medical attention is required so as to prevent the symptoms of withdrawal from causing permanent damage or untimely death. The following are the signs and symptoms that suggest a person is withdrawing from K2:

  • Irritability
  • Diarrhea
  • Cravings to use synthetic marijuana  
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Increased anxiety
  • Tired feeling
  • Agitation

Effects of synthetic marijuana overdose: Because the chemical make-up of synthetic marijuana is ever-changing, there unfortunately is a high risk for overdose. The following are likely to occur in the event a person is experiencing overdose after using this harmful substance:

  • Suddenly collapsing
  • Seizure
  • Stroke
  • Lapsing into a coma
  • Suddenly not breathing
  • Heart attack
  • Sudden and unexpected death  
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