As a volunteer for the NYC Medical Reserve Corp, Gail Ingram follows public health issues closely and explains why fake marijuana is sending kids to the ER.
120 young New Yorkers sought emergency medical care between April 8-15th after using synthetic marijuana. This is six times more than the average weekly number of hospital visits for synthetic cannibinoid-related emergencies and the numbers are continuing to rise.
Synthetic marijuana, also known as Spice and K2, is marketed to young people as a safe and natural alternative to marijuana. This couldn’t be further from the truth although it does look natural which can be misleading. Dried leaves are sprayed with a variety of man-made chemical compounds and sold in 3-ounce packages either online or “under the counter” at bodegas, gas stations, and head shops.
The chemicals used to treat the leaves are consistently changing and users never know exactly what they are smoking. Manufacturers swap ingredients frequently in an attempt to keep synthetic marijuana legal. As it stands today, some concoctions are illicit, but many are not. This is because the process of discovering, identifying, and registering chemical combinations is a lengthy process. In order for a chemical to be considered an illegal drug, the DEA must first identify the active compound and add it to the Schedule I controlled substance list. By the time the DEA has done this, manufacturers are already using a new combination.
The recent scramble to New York City hospitals is probably the result of a new combination of chemicals that created an unexpected reaction in its users. Visitors to the ER presented with seizures, violent behavior, vomiting, high blood pressure, and/or hallucinations. Unfortunately, there is no antidote for an unexpected reaction or overdose since the ingredients are largely unknown. At the hospital, symptoms can be managed with medication while patients are monitored and kept safe until the drug wears off.
It is important to be forthcoming about the use of Spice or K2 in an emergency situation. Since manufacturers are constantly using new chemicals, synthetic marijuana doesn’t show up on standard urine toxicology screens. Without a positive identification, the ER crew may struggle to diagnose and provide appropriate treatment. It is the patient’s responsibility (or their friend’s and/or parent’s) to tell the medical staff that synthetic marijuana might be a factor.
It is also important to note that NYC isn’t the only community affected. Bad reactions have been occurring since 2008 in clusters across the United States. It just happens to be our turn–your town might be next. So be aware that most synthetic marijuana users are young men ranging in age from teens to twenties who don’t believe that Spice or K2 is a drug. When you have conversations with your kids about getting high, ask about other “non-drugs” that their friends are experimenting with. You might be surprised.