What is K2 or synthetic marijuana?

NEW HAVEN — In the course of a couple days, New Haven first responders have treated over 100 overdoses on synthetic marijuana known as ‘spice’ or ‘K2’.

So what is synthetic marijuana? It’s been in the news for the past few years.

The CDC says that synthetic cannabinoids (cannabis, marijuana) aren’t just one drug specifically. They say hundreds of different synthetic cannabinoid chemicals are made and sold with new ones with unknown health risks becoming available each year.

The say that synthetic cannabis is popular because users often think that they are legal, and safe.

The synthetic chemicals are called ‘cannabinoids  because while they act on the same brain cells receptors that marijuana does, synthetic marijuana impacts the brain in different, and often unpredictable ways since the chemical is different from THC. THC is the psychoactive chemical found in natural marijuana.

Synthetic cannabinoids are used in a variety of ways:

  • Sprayed onto plant material and smoked
  • Mixed into a liquid and vaped in electronic nicotine delivery devices (such as e-cigarettes)
  • Added to herbal tea or to food and swallowed

Where is synthetic marijuana sold?

People buy synthetic marijuana in convenience stories, individual drug dealers, or online as incense or natural herbal products. The CDC lists some names under which they are sold:

  • K2
  • Spice
  • AK-47
  • Mr. Happy
  • Scooby Snax
  • Kush
  • Kronic

The CDC cites that many are illegal:

  • The federal government has banned many specific synthetic cannabinoids. Many state and local governments have passed their own laws targeting other synthetic cannabinoids.
  • Recent federal and state laws targeting synthetic cannabinoids have banned general categories of ingredients, rather than specific chemicals.
  • Makers of synthetic cannabinoids try to get around these laws by creating new products with different ingredients or by labeling them “not for human consumption.”

How does synthetic marijuana impact your health?

According to the CDC, synthetic marijuana can affect brain function. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Agitation and irritability
  • Confusion and concentration problems
  • Hallucinations, delusions, psychosis, suicidal thoughts, and violent behavior
  • Seizures
  • Sleepiness and dizziness

Other health problems:

  • Breathing problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Heart attack, fast heart rate, high blood pressure, and stroke
  • Kidney failure
  • Muscle damage

The CDC cites that the health problems depend on many factors, including what kind of synthetic marijuana it is, how much was taken, and how long it’s been used.

There long-term effects of long-term synthetic marijuana use aren’t currently known.

If you or anyone you know becomes sick after using synthetic cannabinoids, seek immediate medical attention. Call 911 or go to the closest emergency room.

The CDC here is no specific antidote for synthetic cannabinoids, but health care professionals can provide supportive treatments, such as oxygen, intravenous fluids, and medications to control seizures, agitation, and nausea.

Read more about synthetic marijuana on drugabuse.gov and the CDC website.