Marijuana has many names. Mary Jane. Pot. Weed. Swag. Ganja – are just some of the old classics. To the addiction treatment community, those who understand the progression of the disease, it’s often referred to as “The Gateway Drug.”
It’s no mystery that marijuana is a starting point for young people. Experimentation stage’s clear drug of choice. The addictive qualities or potential dependence on marijuana has been debated for years. Most agree that marijuana is a lower threat than most drugs, especially physically – however psychologically, it is common for users to become highly dependent. So although we don’t see many admissions for marijuana addiction, we have learned that it plays a major role in various stages of addiction.
For adolescents, heavy use of cannabis can have serious long term effects on the brain. Thinking and memory suffer and the effects can last a long time or even be permanent. According to drugabuse.gov, a recent study of marijuana users who began using in adolescence revealed substantially reduced connectivity among brain areas responsible for learning and memory. And a large long-term study in New Zealand showed that people who began smoking marijuana heavily in their teens lost an average of 8 points in IQ between age 13 and age 38. Importantly, the lost cognitive abilities were not fully restored in those who quit smoking marijuana as adults. Those who started smoking marijuana in adulthood did not show significant IQ declines.
Despite this, marijuana is regarded by many as relatively harmless when compared to other “hardcore” drugs. And it is extremely easy to acquire, even by kids. Easy to get and regarded as safe, non-addictive; no big deal. Brothers introduce pot to their little sisters. Moms and dads share a joint with their older offspring.
And now, several states are moving towards legalization. Colorado has implemented the plan and has reaped the benefits of a state revenue increase. Furthermore, there hasn’t been an increase in crime rate. It is up for debate as to whether these two facts point to ultimate success for legalization.
Communication surrounding marijuana is more disarming than ever, and now there is an even easier to get, seemingly safer, synthetic version of marijuana. It’s available in smoke shops, bodegas, and convenient stores. The package reads “natural and safe,” and it is available for purchase to anyone, virtually anywhere.
It goes by the name of “Spice.” And although it is more accessible than the real MJ, it is potentially more dangerous.
Synthetic cannabis comes in many forms. Liquid eye drops, vaporizing devices, e-cigarettes and the traditional smokable substance that resembles actual marijuana. It’s being purchased – mainly by teens, and it is leading to ER visits across the country.
Numerous hospitalizations in Michigan prompted the Macomb County Health Department to issue an emergency warning and ban on the sale of these drugs, which are reported to cause hallucinations, aggressive behavior, racing heartbeat, drowsiness, and vomiting.
Synthetic cannabis use has recently resulted in over 150 hospital visits in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, LA in October, prompting the governor to ban the drug in that state. It is reported to cause severe agitation, anxiety, and paranoia; raised heartbeat and blood pressure; nausea and vomiting; muscle spasms, seizures, and tremors; intense hallucinations and psychotic episodes, including suicidal fixations and other harmful thoughts.
Similarly in New Hampshire, Governor Maggie Hassan declared a State of Emergency as a result of overdoses from synthetic cannaboid. So too has the Health Department in New York after a spike in ER visits.
Unlike the real mccoy, “Spice” masquerades as a safer, non-narcotic version of marijuana. In reality, many of the makers lie to its consumers – who are usually unsuspecting adolescents. In fact, with the DEA constantly attempting to pinpoint which chemicals to ban, the makers of the drug, have had to become clever with ever-changing combinations to stay off the agency’s list.
Makers of designer drugs that are chemically similar to marijuana’s active ingredient THC—called synthetic cannabinoids or colloquially “synthetic marijuana” or “synthetic pot”—are constantly creating new products to evade legal bans on older compounds. Despite the similarity on the molecular level, these drugs are much more dangerous than marijuana, and have resulted in very serious health consequences including overdoses and aggressive or suicidal behavior in users.
Labels on Spice products often claim that they contain “natural” psycho-active material taken from a variety of plants. Spice products do contain dried plant material, but chemical analyses show that their active ingredients are synthetic (or designer) cannabinoid compounds.
Marijuana is heading towards legalization in many states. This, coupled with the argument that it is less harmful than alcohol and other prescribed medications, communicates a confusing message to our youth. It’s legal so it must be safe? No way. But they don’t know this.
When young people see what’s labeled as an even safer version of pot, what will they do? Variety can be the spice of life, yes. But this variety… of imposter chemical compounds and designer drugs is a far more dangerous concoction than it’s original model.
Hemet Valley Recovery Center & Sage Retreat offers a full continuum of care including: Acute Medical Detoxification, Rehabilitation, Residential, Partial Hospitalization and Recovery Residences.