Doctor: "People don't realize that synthetic marijuana can be deadly"
POSTED: Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 4:43pm
UPDATED: Monday, June 2, 2014 - 1:55pm
EDINBURG, TX (KVEO NEWSCENTER 23) — In the state of Texas, it is illegal to possess or sell synthetic marijuana--but that doesn't stop teens from pursuing the drug.
"Are we seeing an increase in Spice and K2? Yes we are," said Commander Joel Rivera, spokesperson for the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office. "It's a very very dangerous substance."
Synthetic marijuana, also known as Spice or K2, is rising in popularity among teens across the nation.
It's appeal comes from the fact that it doesn't show up on a normal drug screen, unlike natural marijuana.
Another big difference is that chemicals that mimic THC (the hallucinogenic element in marijuana) are sprayed onto dried herbs to produce an intense and dangerous high.
"All it is is a conveyance, a method of conveying that spray or chemical into the body so they can smoke it, and that's what it is," Rivera explained. "So it's very attractive, it's easily gotten."
Because the drug is easily attainable, law enforcement officials are responding to meet this growing issue. Many police officers now carry a drug test that allows them to determine if a person is possessing this illegal substance.
"Now, police departments have to keep up with the demand because it comes in frequently, so they have to always have these [tests] with them," said Sgt. Manny Casas, public information officer at the Mission Police Department.
The problem with the test is that the chemicals that are used in the drug are constantly changing, and the ingredients vary between each product.
"Since the chemicals change, they may have to change the testers again, so it's hard to keep up with these guys because they'll always try to outsmart law enforcement by changing the chemical," Sgt. Casas said.
Although marketed to teens as a "natural high," synthetic marijuana is anything but natural. In fact, it's often impossible to determine the exact ingredients or the level of toxicity since it is different for each brand.
Casas says a large majority of the synthetic marijuana used by teens is not domestic--pouches of the drug can be ordered online and are usually produced in Asian countries.
Synthetic marijuana most commonly comes in small aluminum pouches labeled as "potpourri" or "herbal incense" and the bag clearly states "not intended for human consumption." But law enforcement officials say the packaging is just a cover and that those who purchase the products do so knowing that it will not act as an aromatic accessory.
The packaging for synthetic marijuana varies in names, colors, and designs. Some are labeled to be strawberry flavored while others have names like "Scooby Snax." Oftentimes when parents find these pouches in their kids' bedrooms, they have no idea that what their children are consuming could potentially be deadly.
Dr. Mary Camacho is a pediatric intensivist at Edinburg Children's Hospital who specializes in severe illnesses and injuries in children. She studies synthetic marijuana and the dangerous effects it has on a young person.
"One of the worst components is that it has a psychosis," Dr. Camacho explained. "They have a lot of anxiety There are even reports of kids killing themselves after having marijuana because they go in a psychosis."
Emergency room doctors are seeing an increase in the number of teens with violent symptoms after smoking synthetic marijuana.
"Sometimes they come already brain dead," said Dr. Camacho. "I mean, it's really toxic. It can kill the kids."
Dr. Camacho says the side effects can be life-threatening and include rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, hallucinations, sudden kidney failure, paralysis, and even severe brain damage.
The more synthetic marijuana that is consumed, the more severe the side effects are, but these symptoms can often occur after just one use.
Since the exact chemical ingredients of the drug are unknown, it makes it difficult for doctors to treat.
"The chemicals is what acts like a marijuana, but it's stronger and it has more attachment to the receptors on the brain producing more damage," said Dr. Camacho.
Dr. Camacho stresses that parents need to intervene if they believe their kids are smoking synthetic marijuana.
If your children exhibit any of these symptoms, especially the psychotic behavior, it is advised that you seek medical attention.
Law enforcement officials also urge parents to talk to their kids about the dangers of this drug and be active in knowing what their kids are doing outside of the home.