By Dr. Joy Martinez, Contributing Columnist with The Carolinian
While we are considering all the rapid and unexpected change and loss that seemed to plague the US in 2016, we need not forget the day 33 people overdosed on Brooklyn street corner. Calls rush in to the 911 center reporting people collapsing and vomiting on the street and subway platform.
NYC health officials confirmed it, over 6,000 ER visits and 2 confirmed deaths in a year from a drug someone created. Thousands of exposures in America. People are dying. Poison control centers are reporting teens increasingly affected by this seemingly innocent and highly addictive drug.
What is K2 or Spice?
According to a forensic toxicologist at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, K2 was initially designed as research chemicals for use in the laboratory, trying to identify cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Wanting to know more about the long-term effects of marijuana, it appears we created a new drug problem.
Fake weed. Man-made mind-altering chemicals that are either sprayed onto dried, shredded plant material so they can be smoked (often called herbal incense) or sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes and other devices (liquid incense).
But buyer beware. These chemicals are called cannabinoids because they are related to chemicals found in the marijuana plant. The synthetic cannabinoids are sometimes called “synthetic marijuana” and they are often marketed as “safe,” legal alternatives to that drug. In fact, they affect the brain much more; their actual contents and effects are wildly unpredictable. Nobody knows exactly how these chemicals affect the brain, because there is no method of identifying precisely what chemicals are in each dose of synthetic marijuana. Many of these chemical compounds have never been seen before, let alone studied.
The chemicals keep changing, they are sold online, at the corner store, in “Vapes” shops. They often have no smell. They don’t appear on traditional drug tests. It’s easy to find and difficult to control.
In 2012, more than 11% of 12th graders and 4% of 8th graders said they smoked this “fake weed” at some point that year. In the first half of 2015, there was a 229% increase in calls to poison control centers involving the drug. Between 2014 and the 2015, the number of deaths in the U.S. related to synthetic marijuana tripled.
K2 use should be frightening.
Studies show that if a person begins frequently using cannabis before age 17 it affects the way in which the nerves in the brain connect during development. This use can reduce IQ and can permanently change the brain, which isn’t fully developed until the end of one’s 20s.
Synthetic pot is dangerous. Marilyn A. Huestis, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore and former chief of chemistry and drug metabolism at the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports, “We have learned that they can not only lead to death, but we have seen histories of kidney damage. They can destroy the kidneys so people may die or need to have dialysis and/or transplants. They can cause cardiovascular effects and can bring on heart attacks and strokes in the brain.”
So, how do you know if your teen is using? What do you do if you or your teen has a problem?
Look for signs:
Spice packages (small, plastic wrapping with labels you’ve never seen before)
Small plastic containers or vials
Pungent smell on their breath or clothes
Pipes, bongs or other smoking devices
And call for help.