Synthetic Marijuana Abuse: Signs, Symptoms, & When To Get Help

Synthetic marijuana is a potent substance that can cause an individual to suffer from a number of risks and dangerous outcomes.

Understanding Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Learn about synthetic marijuana abuse

Often marketed as a safe alternative to regular marijuana, synthetic marijuana is very dangerous, and it is not marijuana. The substance known as synthetic marijuana is a plant material that is dried and then sprayed with one or more chemicals. This substance often interacts with the brain in a way that is similar to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabional (THC), which is the active psychoactive ingredient in normal marijuana. However, when it comes to synthetic marijuana, which is commonly referred to as K2 or spice, the effects can be unpredictable, potent, and long-term. Because there is not a sole formula for developing synthetic marijuana, users are not able to know what substances they are taking, and what effects these substances can cause.

While it can be difficult to overcome the compulsion to abuse synthetic marijuana, seeking treatment can allow individuals to win the war against this dangerous drug.


Synthetic marijuana abuse statistics

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reports that synthetic marijuana is responsible for over 11,000 emergency visits per year. More than 75% of these visits include male patients under 29 years of age. The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) states that poison control centers within the United States reported over 18,500 cases that included synthetic marijuana abuse, averaging to about 4,637 cases per year. The first four months of 2015 had 2,413 cases of synthetic marijuana abuse at these types of centers.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for synthetic marijuana abuse

Most causes of substance abuse and addiction occur because of genetic and/or environmental influences, including:

Genetic: A family history of addiction significantly increases one’s risk for abusing and becoming addicted to a deadly substance such as synthetic marijuana. Advances in genetic research show that many individual genes and gene clusters are impactful in determining if an individual will develop a substance use disorder or not.

Environmental: Early exposure to substance abuse, the ability to access synthetic marijuana, being abused or neglected, experiencing stress, or hanging out with individuals who abuse this substance serve as environmental factors that can add to one’s chances of developing a synthetic marijuana abuse problem.

Risk Factors:

  • Prior substance abuse, especially at an early age
  • Poor stress-management skills
  • Limited parental involvement during childhood
  • Trauma
  • Being under the age of 29
  • Being male
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Living in poverty

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of synthetic marijuana abuse

The following signs might indicate that an individual is struggling with a synthetic marijuana abuse problem:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Declining performance at work
  • Frequent unexplained absences from work
  • Lack of attention to grooming and personal hygiene
  • Deception regarding one’s actions and whereabouts
  • Abandonment of friends for new peer group
  • Social withdrawal

Physical symptoms:

  • Numbness in extremities
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Watery eyes
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Higher than normal blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Muscle spasms
  • Nausea

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Loss of interest in significant activities
  • Mood swings and changes in demeanor
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Anxiety and/or depression


Effects of synthetic marijuana abuse

Synthetic marijuana abuse that keeps continuing without care might lead to the following negative consequences:

  • Cognitive impairments
  • Brain damage
  • Family discord
  • Stroke
  • Diminished occupational performance
  • Dysfunctional interpersonal relationships
  • Job loss and chronic unemployment
  • Financial problems
  • Legal problems, including arrest and incarceration
  • Suicidal ideation and attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

Synthetic marijuana abuse and co-occurring disorders

Those who have grown addicted to synthetic marijuana might also be at greater risk for suffering from the following co-occurring conditions:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Withdrawal and Overdose

Synthetic marijuana withdrawal and overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal: When an individual has become dependent on synthetic marijuana, suddenly ceasing or dramatically reducing use will likely lead to an onset of a number of upsetting withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Nausea
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Strong cravings for drugs

Effects of synthetic marijuana overdose: Anyone who shows the following symptoms after abusing synthetic marijuana might have overdosed and should be offered immediate medical attention:

  • Hallucinations
  • Respiratory distress
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Seizure
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Delusions
  • Disorientation
What our clients are saying

After abusing synthetic marijuana for so long, I was starting to experience the detrimental side effects. It was then I sought help for my drug abuse at Huntington Creek and was able to achieve lasting recovery.

– Former Patient
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