Lifestyle & Belief

Fake marijuana sends thousands to emergency room, new study shows


A Canadian flag with a marijuana leaf alongside Parliament Hill In Ottawa, Canada on June 5, 2004.


Donald Weber

Think that synthetic marijuana substitutes are harmless? Think again: a new US government report has found that faux weed can in fact be very dangerous, sending thousands to the emergency room in 2010 alone.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 11,406 people were sent to the emergency room as a result of using synthetic marijuana, often sold as "K2" or "Spice."

Designed to simulate the high created by natural marijuana, these synthetic cannabinoids are often marketed as a legal alternative to the real stuff. But they're not harmless to your health, according to SAMHSA.

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The administration claims that synthetic marijuana is "tied to a variety of reported symptoms including agitation, nausea, vomiting, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), elevated blood pressure, tremor, seizures, hallucinations, paranoid behavior and non-responsiveness."

The study found the majority of victims were between the ages of 17 and 29, and primarily male. Most of those admitted for reactions to the drug did not come back for any kind of follow-up care.

Synthetic marijuana is included in the same category of faux drugs as bath salts, a substance that became infamous this summer after they were implicated in a horrifying "cannibal" attack on a homeless man. (It was later discovered that attacker Rudy Eugene had no bath salts in his system at the time of the assault, according to the Miami Herald).

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In July, the Obama administration signed into law the FDA Safety and Innovation Act, designating both bath salts and synthetic marijuana as Schedule 1 controlled substances, illegalizing it across the country.

Prior to the passage of the new FDA act, synthetic marijuana could be purchased in gas stations in the states that permitted its use—and manufacturers continue to find ways to get around existing bans by tweaking their product's chemical content, or stamping them as "DEA Compliant."