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Causes & Effects of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse & Addiction

Synthetic marijuana, also commonly known as K2 and spice, is a synthetic chemical compound designed to mimic the effects of regular marijuana. This compound consists of either oil or solids and is typically sprayed onto a mixture of dried herbs and spices. When distribution of this substance first began, it was marketed as being a “safe alternative to marijuana.” Sadly, however, the effects of synthetic marijuana have proven that it is the furthest thing from being safe.

Due to the fact that no one knows for sure what chemicals are included in the compounds used to make synthetic marijuana, due in part to the fact that it is not consistent, no one can be truly sure as to how an individual’s body will react when the substance is ingested. For some users, the chemical toxins can elicit the “high” feeling that they desire. While, for others, the result of the presence of this toxin can render them susceptible to immediately falling into a state of psychosis.

As is true for any substance, once a person has begun experimenting with synthetic marijuana, he or she is at risk for developing an addiction to the drug. Once this addiction has developed, it can be extremely difficult to overcome without professional intervention. Fortunately, there are a number of treatment options available to help individuals battle their addiction and overcome their compulsions to use synthetic marijuana.

Get confidential help now: 855.396.1913 or EMAIL US.


In 2012, there was a federal ban of the substance initiated by the United States government. Despite this ban, however, the production, distribution, and use of synthetic marijuana continues to be widespread. While national statistics regarding the prominence of abuse of this drug amongst all ages is still in the process of being compiled, a number of reports have been given from various entities regarding disturbing effects that have resulted from the use of synthetic marijuana.

Between January and June of 2014, reports were provided by poison centers throughout the U.S. stating that they received nearly 800 cases of individuals being exposed to synthetic marijuana. In March of 2014, Louisiana emergency departments reported that over 100 people were treated for an overdose of K2 over the course of a mere two weeks. Additionally, over a period of five days in May of 2014, approximately 120 people throughout Texas suffered from an overdose of synthetic marijuana.

Causes and Risk Factors for Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

The complicated nature of synthetic drugs and the chemical compounds that they are derived from leads researchers to believe that more research must be done in order to provide more conclusive results regarding the causes and risk factors that make individuals more vulnerable to developing an addiction to these types of substances, including synthetic marijuana. Currently, the most commonly cited hypotheses include the following:

Genetic: In general, addiction itself is known to have a strong hereditary component as substance abuse and addiction commonly runs in families. A person’s genetics also come into play when looking at the development of an individual’s temperament and personality, both of which can play a role in one’s susceptibly to begin using and abusing substances like synthetic marijuana.

Environmental: As is true for the use of any substance, environmental factors can greatly impact a person’s decision to begin experimenting with the use of synthetic marijuana. For example, when individuals grow up in environments where drug use is common, they are more likely to begin partaking in such activities themselves because they see it as being an acceptable form of recreation. In other cases, individuals who are exposed to highly stressful or chaotic environments, or who are subjected to abuse or neglect, have an increased likelihood of abusing drugs as they seek out a means of numbing themselves from the negative circumstances that plague them.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Lack of parental involvement / inconsistent parenting while growing up
  • Exposure to drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Pre-existing mental health condition
  • Family history of mental health conditions
  • Exposure to crime and/or violence
  • Exposure to highly stressful and/or chaotic environments

Signs and Symptoms of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Because of the variety of chemicals that are used to create synthetic marijuana, the ways in which individuals will display signs that abuse of this drug is occurring will vary greatly from person to person. Examples of possible symptoms may include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Alternating between sudden, extreme bouts of hyperactivity and sudden, extreme bouts of lethargy
  • Sudden onset of unwarranted physical aggression
  • Sudden and unprovoked angry outbursts
  • Engaging in instigative behaviors
  • Poor occupational performance
  • Frequent absences from work

Physical symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Chest pains
  • Muscle spasms
  • Headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Reduced or elevated blood pressure
  • Numbness in extremities
  • Seizures
  • Panic attacks

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Altered states of perception
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Extreme confusion
  • Depersonalization
  • Derealization

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Rapid changes in mood and demeanor
  • Mania
  • Excessive irritability
  • Excessive agitation
  • Heightened feelings of anxiety
  • Heightened feelings of depression
  • Periods of emotional detachment / emotional numbness

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 Abuse

Due to the fact that the distribution, circulation, and use of synthetic marijuana is relatively new, the Drug Enforcement Administration is still in the process of studying the long-terms effects that the abuse of this substance can have on users. Effects that have been known to be elicited by the use of synthetic marijuana, however, are said to include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Disturbed interpersonal relationships
  • Occupational failure / job loss
  • Psychosis
  • Need for hospitalization
  • Familial discord
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Sudden death

Co-Occurring Disorders

It is not uncommon for people who battle an addiction to substances to be simultaneously suffering from a mental health condition. Some individuals who are struggling with symptoms of mental illness may knowingly or unknowingly begin abusing drugs as a means of self-medicating their distressing symptoms. Others, however, may experience the onset of symptoms of mental health conditions as a direct result of drug use, especially when a genetic predisposition for such conditions exists. Examples of various mental health conditions that can be associated with the presence of synthetic marijuana abuse may include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Eating disorders

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal: When people have developed a pattern of abusing synthetic marijuana, but then suddenly cease their use, they are susceptible to experiencing symptoms of withdrawal. Known to last for up to a period of three days, various symptoms and effects that may be indicative of synthetic marijuana withdrawal can include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Intense cravings
  • Extreme feelings of hunger, but lacking the ability to keep food down
  • Alternating between hot and cold flashes
  • Experiencing flu-like symptoms
  • Isolating oneself
  • Excessive lethargy
  • Increased feelings of anxiety
  • Engaging in violent temper tantrums

Effects of synthetic marijuana overdose: Due to the prevalence of reports of synthetic marijuana overdoses, it is imperative to recognize that when someone is overdosing on this substance, it must be viewed as a medical emergency and medical treatment should be sought immediately. The symptoms and effects that may indicate that someone has overdosed on synthetic marijuana can include the following:

  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack
  • Lapsing into a coma
  • Derealization
  • Depersonalization
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Loss of consciousness

Get confidential help now: 855.396.1913 or EMAIL US.

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