Synthetic Marijuana Abuse Causes and Effects

Sunrise Recovery Ranch provides synthetic marijuana abuse treatment rooted in a science-based, research-supported clinical model to ensure a healthier, more satisfying life, without addiction.

Understanding Synthetic Marijuana

Learn about synthetic marijuana and substance abuse

Synthetic marijuana, which is also known as spice or K2, is a substance that continues to grow in popularity, despite the detriments that it is now known to elicit. This substance consist of a synthetic chemical compound that was originally created in an attempt to mimic the effects of regular marijuana. However, the various chemicals that are used to make these compounds have resulted in a drug that is extremely dangerous and that goes beyond producing the effects commonly associated with natural marijuana. Additionally, the formulation of these compounds alters frequently when the substance is being created, resulting in various batches of synthetic marijuana containing different toxicities. In other words, one individual could use synthetic marijuana and achieve a seemingly pleasurable high, while another individual could use a different batch of the drug and end up falling into a state of psychosis. Tragically, just a single use of this drug has resulted in death.

As is true for the abuse of any substance, once individuals have begun chronically using synthetic marijuana, it can become increasingly difficult for them to stop without professional intervention. Even when faced with negative consequences as a direct result of their synthetic marijuana abuse, many people find that they are unable to put an end to their habit. Fortunately, there are treatment options available that can help these individuals overcome their compulsion to use this potentially deadly drug.


Synthetic marijuana abuse statistics

While the true prevalence of synthetic marijuana abuse is not currently known, there are many statistics regarding the detriments that the abuse of this substance has caused. Between January and June of 2014 alone, poison centers throughout the United States stated that nearly 800 cases of synthetic marijuana exposure were reported. During a short, two-week period in March of 2014, emergency departments in the state of Louisiana reported that they had treated over 100 people for synthetic marijuana overdoses. Then in May of 2014, over a five-day period in Texas, an estimated 120 people reportedly suffered from synthetic marijuana overdoses as well.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for synthetic marijuana abuse

The causes and risk factors that can play a role in determining one’s vulnerability to abusing synthetic marijuana are discussed in the following:

Genetic: As is true for other substance use disorders, the onset of synthetic marijuana use disorder is believed to have a genetic tie. Individuals who have a family history of substance use disorders, antisocial personality disorder, and/or conduct disorder are more likely to abuse this substance than are individuals who do not have a similar genetic background.

Environmental: The environment that surrounds a person can have an enormous impact on whether or not he or she will develop synthetic marijuana use disorder. Things such as being exposed to the abuse of synthetic marijuana or other drugs, being raised in an unstable environment, or experiencing various types of trauma can all impact an individual’s susceptibility to beginning to abuse drugs like synthetic marijuana.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal or family history of conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder
  • Personal or family history of other substance use disorders
  • Beginning to abuse drugs and/or alcohol at an early age
  • Ease of availability to the substance
  • Suffering from childhood maltreatment
  • Experiencing trauma
  • Possessing limited self-control
  • Struggling with behavioral disinhibition

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of synthetic marijuana abuse

Due to the fact that there are a variety of different chemicals used in the compounds that make up synthetic marijuana, the signs and symptoms that may be indicative of use can vary in type, severity, and duration. Examples of possible signs and symptoms can include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Inappropriate laughter
  • Social withdrawal
  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Decline in occupational performance
  • Physical aggression
  • Belligerence
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at work or at home
  • Continually increasing the dosage of the substance consumed or the frequency with which it is consumed

Physical symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Impaired motor coordination
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Panic attacks

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Paranoid ideation
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Impaired judgment
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Confusion

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Fluctuating moods
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Mania
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Emotional detachment


Effects of synthetic marijuana abuse

The longer that individuals continue to abuse synthetic marijuana, the more susceptible they are to suffering from a number of detrimental effects. However, even one use of this dangerous substance has been known to elicit devastating consequences. Examples of various long-term and short-term effects of synthetic marijuana abuse may include the following:

  • Need for hospitalization
  • Psychosis
  • Disturbed relationships
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Familial discord
  • Self-harm
  • Chronic suicidal ideation
  • Decline in occupational functioning
  • Onset of, or worsening of current, symptoms of other mental health conditions

Co-Occurring Disorders

Synthetic marijuana abuse and co-occurring disorders

Individuals with synthetic marijuana use disorder may also suffer from the following co-occurring disorders:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Conduct disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal & overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal: If synthetic marijuana is chronically abused, individuals are at risk for experiencing a period of withdrawal when that use has ceased. The specific symptoms of withdrawal will vary amongst individuals, but examples of some that have been known to arise include:

  • Cravings for synthetic marijuana
  • Lethargy
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Violent temper tantrums
  • Experiencing hunger, yet not being able to keep food down
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Hot and cold flashes

Effects of synthetic marijuana overdose: When a substance is ingested in such an amount that an individual’s body is incapable of metabolizing it, an overdose is likely to occur. Signs that can indicate that someone has overdosed on synthetic marijuana may include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Depersonalization
  • Derealization
  • Heart attack
  • Stoke
  • Seizures
  • Lapsing into a coma

Thanks to Sunrise Recovery Ranch, my daughter was able to get the lasting recovery she deserved from her addiction and her co-occurring mental health disorder. I am super grateful!

– Michelle A.
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