Report: Synthetic Marijuana Sends 11K to Hospital Annually

Street forms of synthetic cannabinoids — so-called “synthetic marijuana” — were linked to 11,406 of the 4.9 million drug-related emergency department (ED) visits in 2010, according to a new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Commonly known by such street names as “K2” or “Spice,” synthetic cannabinoids are substances that are not derived from the marijuana plant but purport to have the same effect as the drug. Though an increasing number of states have passed laws against the sale of synthetic cannabinoids, they have been marketed as a “legal” alternative to marijuana during the past few years. In July 2012, a comprehensive, national ban was enacted against the sale of synthetic cannabinoids under Title XI of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act.

Today’s report points out that the use of synthetic cannabinoids is tied to a variety of reported symptoms including agitation, nausea, vomiting, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), elevated blood pressure, tremor, seizures, hallucinations, paranoid behavior and non-responsiveness.

The report found that youths between the ages of 12 to 29 constituted 75% of all hospital ED visits involving synthetic cannabinoids, while males accounted for 78% of the ED admissions among this age group. The average age for people involved in synthetic cannabinoid-related ED admissions was younger than for marijuana-related ED visits (24 years old versus 30 years old).

“Health care professionals should be alerted to the potential dangers of synthetic cannabinoids, and they should be aware that their patients may be using these substances,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. “Parents, teachers, coaches and other concerned adults can make a huge impact by talking to young people, especially older adolescents and young adults, about the potential risks associated with using synthetic marijuana.”

“This report confirms that synthetic drugs cause substantial damage to public health and safety in America,” said Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Gil Kerlikowske. “Make no mistake — the use of synthetic cannabinoids can cause serious, lasting damage, particularly in young people. Parents have a responsibility to learn what these drugs can do and to educate their families about the negative impact they cause.”

Several grantees funded under SAMHSA’s various programs are working to prevent the use of synthetic marijuana. Many states are providing prevention education to local communities, including webinars and fact sheets for parents on the signs and symptoms of the use of synthetic marijuana. Questions also are being added to school surveys to determine the incidence and prevalence of the use of synthetic marijuana by youth. Grantees funded by the ONDCP’s Drug-Free Communities Support Program have provided tremendous insight to local synthetic marijuana issues and are using environmental policies aimed at limiting access to these dangerous substances in local retail stores.

In addition, SAMHSA’s Division of Workplace Programs maintains a list of Department of Health and Human Services-certified laboratories that test regulated specimens for “K2” or “Spice.”

The report, “Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits Involving Synthetic Cannabinoids,” is based on data drawn from SAMHSA’s Drug Abuse Warning Network, a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related morbidity and mortality. The full report can be viewed at:

To learn more about synthetic cannabinoids, visit the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s website.


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