What is Synthetic Marijuana, and Why Should You Avoid It?

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By, Mike Stobbe, Associated Press

A decade after first appearing in the United States, synthetic marijuana is seen as a growing health danger.

Some marijuana smokers turned to it because it is relatively cheap and not detected in routine drug testing. Dozens of people in New Haven, Connecticut, went to the hospital this week after overdosing on a batch of synthetic pot.

Here are answers to common questions about synthetic marijuana and its hazards:

What is synthetic marijuana?

While states have moved to legalize traditional cannabis, synthetic marijuana has become a public health threat. Synthetic pot is a mind-altering drug made by taking plant material and spraying it with chemicals that can mimic the high from marijuana’s THC. It is sold under names including K2, AK47, Spice, Kush, Kronic, and Scooby Snax.

The chemicals also can also be mixed into a liquid and vaped, and even mixed into edibles and drinks. The substances can produce some similar effects to traditional marijuana including relaxation, elevated mood, and altered perception.

What’s in synthetic marijuana?

Authorities have detected scores of chemicals in synthetic marijuana, and say chemical composition can vary not only from product to product, but also from batch to batch. Some ingredients are banned by federal or state law. Drug dealers peddle synthetic marijuana, and police say people have been able to buy it online or from convenience stores and gas stations.

Synthetic pot products are not tested for safety and people who use them don’t know exactly what chemicals they’re putting into their bodies.

Earlier in 2018, more than 160 people in Illinois were sickened and at least four died after using synthetic marijuana tainted with rat poison.

What are the dangers?

Synthetic marijuana can cause vomiting, hallucinations, seizures, rapid heartbeat and kidney damage severe enough to put users on dialysis.

It also can be addictive and has been tied to violent behavior and suicidal thoughts.

Paramedics and emergency medical technicians treat one of three simultaneous drug overdose victims Aug. 16, 2018, on the New Haven Green, a city park in New Haven, Connecticut. Police swarmed a Connecticut park near Yale University and searched people’s homes for drugs Thursday in an effort to prevent more overdoses from a batch of synthetic marijuana blamed for sending more than 70 people to the hospital. (Brian A. Pounds/Hearst Connecticut Media via The Associated Press)

Health officials track reports of illnesses related to synthetic marijuana through hospital emergency department visits or poison center calls. Poison centers report thousands of cases each year including nearly 8,000 in 2015. As of July, poison control centers handled about 1,300 synthetic marijuana calls in 2018. Police swarmed a Connecticut park near Yale University and searched people’s homes for drugs in an effort to prevent more overdoses from a batch of synthetic marijuana blamed for sending more than 70 people to the hospital.

Related: After More Than 100 K2-related Overdoses, New Haven is On Edge

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