Cannabis is a term for marijuana Marijuana Marijuana (cannabis) is a drug made from the plants Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica that contain a psychoactive chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Marijuana... read more . Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main active ingredient in marijuana. Synthetic cannabinoids are man-made drugs that are similar to THC. They are usually sprayed on dried plant material and smoked or inhaled as vaporized liquid from e-cigarettes. There are many chemical families of synthetic cannabinoids, and new compounds are being reported regularly. These synthetic drugs are commonly known as "spice" and "K2."
(See also Drug Use and Abuse Overview of Substance-Related Disorders Medications and other substances, whether used for legitimate medical purposes, as a habit (for example, caffeine), or recreationally, are an integral part of everyday life for many people ... read more .)
Symptoms of Synthetic Marijuana Use
Different cannabinoids have different effects, and many of their short- and long-term effects remain unknown. However, there are three main categories of effects:
Psychiatric: Confusion, agitation, hallucinations, and psychosis (loss of contact with reality) that may be irreversible
Cardiovascular: High blood pressure, rapid heartbeat (tachycardia Overview of Abnormal Heart Rhythms Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) are sequences of heartbeats that are irregular, too fast, too slow, or conducted via an abnormal electrical pathway through the heart. Heart disorders are... read more ), and heart attack Acute Coronary Syndromes (Heart Attack; Myocardial Infarction; Unstable Angina) Acute coronary syndromes result from a sudden blockage in a coronary artery. This blockage causes unstable angina or a heart attack (myocardial infarction), depending on the location and amount... read more
Neurologic: Blurred vision, heavy sweating, and seizures
Additional effects include vomiting, high body temperature (hyperthermia Overview of Heat Disorders Humans, who are warm-blooded animals, maintain their body temperature within 1 or 2 degrees of 98.6° F (37° C) as measured by mouth and 100.4° F (38° C) as measured rectally, despite large fluctuations... read more ), muscle breakdown, and kidney failure Overview of Kidney Failure This chapter includes a new section on COVID-19 and acute kidney injury (AKI). Kidney failure is the inability of the kidneys to adequately filter metabolic waste products from the blood. Kidney... read more .
Diagnosis of Synthetic Marijuana Intoxication
A doctor's evaluation
Doctors usually make their diagnosis based on what drugs people or their friends say were taken. Routine urine drug tests do not detect synthetic cannabinoids, although there are specific tests to detect synthetic cannabinoids in blood, urine, or hair.
People who show signs of severe acute intoxication often need tests to look for complications. Doctors typically do blood tests to check blood count, electrolytes, and kidney function and do an electrocardiography (ECG Electrocardiography Electrocardiography (ECG) is a quick, simple, painless procedure in which the heart’s electrical impulses are amplified and recorded. This record, the electrocardiogram (also known as an ECG)... read more ) to check heart rhythm. Their urine also may be tested for myoglobin, which indicates muscle breakdown.
Treatment of Synthetic Marijuana Intoxication
Observation and monitoring until the person is sober
Typical treatments, which include IV sedatives (benzodiazepines) and fluids and supportive care, are usually adequate. People with dangerously high body temperature (hyperthermia Serotonin Syndrome Serotonin syndrome is a potentially life-threatening drug reaction that tends to cause high body temperature, muscle spasms, and anxiety or delirium. Serotonin is a chemical that transmits impulses... read more ), persistently high heart rate or agitation, and high serum creatinine (indicative of possible kidney problems) should be hospitalized and monitored for muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis Rhabdomyolysis Rhabdomyolysis occurs when muscle fibers damaged by disease, injury, or toxic substances break down and release their contents into the bloodstream. Severe disease can cause acute kidney injury... read more ) and heart and kidney damage.
The following English-language resources may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of these resources.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Synthetic cannabinoid–specific information from the federal agency that supports scientific research into drug use and its consequences and supplies information about commonly used drugs, research priorities and progress, clinical resources, and grant and funding opportunities.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): US Department of Health agency that leads public health efforts to improve behavioral health and provides resources, including treatment locators, toll-free helplines, practitioner training tools, statistics, and publications on a variety of substance-related topics.