What Is Synthetic Marijuana?

October 8, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics


TGDGmarijuanaThe average citizen in the U.S. is familiar with marijuana, at least anecdotally. Nearly half of the states in the country have legalized marijuana for medicinal use, and two states – Colorado and Washington – have legalized marijuana for recreational use. For many people living in the 48 U.S. states where marijuana is not legal for recreational use, a legal alternative has become popular over the last few years: synthetic marijuana. This mock cannabis is widely accessible and notably dangerous.

Understanding Synthetic Marijuana

Synthetic Marijuana is considered a “designer drug” with effects that are intended to mimic the effects of real marijuana. Two popular brand names for this drug are K2 and Spice. These two drugs contain synthetic cannabinoids that are similar to THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component found in actual marijuana. The synthetic cannabinoids that are used in synthetic marijuana are considered unsafe, causing extreme anxiety or psychotic episodes in many instances, and have been banned in some European countries for years. The U.S. also banned these synthetic cannabinoids in July 2012. However, synthetic marijuana sales continue legally today because many brands have simply replaced the synthetic cannabinoids that had been banned with others that are not.

Despite the assumed similarities between synthetic marijuana and actual marijuana, the differences are stark. Synthetic marijuana is considerably more unpredictable and dangerous than real marijuana. The use of synthetic marijuana has been associated with acute psychosis, the worsening of mental illness (even if stable at the time of use), hypertension, accelerated heart rate, heart attack, seizures, hallucinations, convulsions, panic attacks, high blood pressure, nausea, blurred vision, agitation, and long-term psychotic disorder for those who were already at risk for mental illness.

There has been at least one death associated with the use of synthetic marijuana and several deaths that are being investigated in association with the use of this drug. A teenage girl who used synthetic marijuana daily for two weeks experienced several strokes, brain damage, blindness, and paralysis.

Because of a lack of oversight and regulation of this product, effects and ingredients seem to vary widely from batch to batch. A German lab that tested synthetic marijuana concluded that the ingredients listed on the packet were not an accurate representation of the ingredients contained within the product itself.

Effects of Synthetic Marijuana

There are many negative side effects from use of synthetic marijuana. The substance has been linked to serious health conditions and even death. The immediate effects of synthetic marijuana are said to be similar to those of real marijuana, but more short-lived. Many users of synthetic marijuana have claimed to experience a simple feeling of relaxation after using the drug.

Synthetic marijuana is especially popular among high school students. The drug is difficult to detect through drug testing. When compared to actual marijuana, synthetic marijuana is much more powerful. Marijuana activists have been outspoken about their disapproval of synthetic marijuana – especially its name. Many people believe that “synthetic marijuana” is a dangerous misnomer, leading users to assume that the drug is not as dangerous as actual marijuana when, in fact, the consensus is that this drug is highly dangerous.

Elizabeth Seward has written about health and wellness for Discovery Health, National Geographic, How Stuff Works Health, and many other online and print publications. As a former touring rock musician, Elizabeth has firsthand experience with the struggles of substance abuse and the loss of loved ones because of it. She believes in the restorative power of yoga, meditation, talk therapy, and plant-based diets and she is an advocate for progressive drug policy reform.

Medical Marijuana: How Are There So Many Different Types?


There are many types of medical marijuana

There are many types of medical marijuana

We exist in a world where genetic codes can be altered on anything that lives. We have bred (cloned) animals from petri dishes. This is also the case with crops that have been used for centuries for food; primarily wheat, corn, soy and rice.

From the 1950s to today, marijuana has increased in potency, along with shifts in its use as a medicinal plant for those who suffer from specific types of pain. As breeders have created stronger strains of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana (cannabis), they have also developed specific genetic markers designed to enhance certain properties of marijuana. These properties may include pain relief, cessation of cellular development in certain types of cancer, appetite enhancement, and relaxation. Studies have attributed the active ingredients in marijuana (specific cannabinoids) with increasing the effectiveness of chemotherapy when used together.

As each cannabinoid is tested and found to be effective for use in these areas, different formulations of marijuana are bred to enhance these properties. As medical marijuana use increases, strains of marijuana are being developed and targeted for each purpose.

Cell development in cancer is being studied to find methods to stop the rapid growth and spread of cancer cells. This has been done in clinical trials, using marijuana, for liver, lung and breast cancer, with positive results in mice. Because there are specific strengths of a cannabinoid used to gain these results, marijuana with these high doses of Delta 9-THC are being tested for further medicinal use in fighting cancer cell growth.

The technology used for breeding seed for other purposes is used to increase the strength of certain cannabinoids in marijuana. Much as drought-resistant or pest-resistant seed is developed for food crops, seed to grow marijuana with specific genetic markers is done. Hybrid marijuana is nothing new. In the years following the explosive growth in popularity of pot in the 1960s and 1970s, new breeds, types and strains of marijuana emerged in the market place. Maui Wowie, Panama Red, and others became popular, as breeders learned how to take the specifics of each breed and pollinate plants for properties suited to growing climate and desired outcomes. The names generally come from the breeder, some are quite creative and some speak to qualities of the plants.

There are two basic species of cannabis grown for use as a drug. They are cannabis sativa and cannabis indica. There are physical properties indicative of each species. There is another species that is primarily wild and used for products containing no THC, one active cannabinoid in marijuana. Hemp products may come from those plants with no or very low THC content.

Various regions and growing climates around the world determine the strain(s) of marijuana grown there. These will have specific properties that growers continue to develop for maximum production. When there are specified side effects of these strains, the chemical compounds involved are bred back into those plants, increasing their potency and efficacy for those purposes.

Marijuana has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. These are being recognized scientifically and tested to prove their validity. As they are created, new uses for medical marijuana may be found.


Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work and a CATC IV in addictions counseling. She teaches meditation and mindfulness, specializing in addiction and trauma. She also leads workshops and seminars on treatment of addictive disorders and stress reduction.

Pot and the Teen Brain

July 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Health, People and Culture


Marijuana May Affect the Developing Brain

Marijuana May Affect the Developing Brain

Adolescents and Teenagers: Pot Use and the Developing Brain

The brain is a fabulous instrument. Even its development is a wonder. As science discovers more about the brain and its beautiful symphony of operation, knowledge of the ways drugs and alcohol affect the developing brain are being discovered as well.

Development of the brain takes place from birth through the age of twenty or so. In a teenage brain, certain brain regions are still forming, and the brain has yet to master the complex functions found in the pre-frontal cortex of the adult brain. This is the processing center; where decisions and judgment are made in an adult brain. This is not yet developed in a teen. Adolescents and teens use another brain process when assessing danger and deciding things that may become life-changing. Judgement in young people may not always be sound.

The synapses (relays) in the brain are not yet protected, as they will be at adulthood. The use of drugs in the developing years can cause permanent damage in the formation of the protective coating (called the myelin sheath) on the synapses. For this reason, and others not yet fully understood, use of marijuana in adolescents and teens can pose a more serious risk than it does for adult users.

Early Pot Use Related to Impaired Decision-Making

Adults have fully formed sheathing on these synapses, protecting the process of communication in the brain responsible for processing thoughts and making decisions. If teenage damage occurs, this type of brain function is possibly never fully formed. As use continues or escalates, more damage to the synapses is done and processing of the pre-frontal cortex is forever impaired. This allows for more impulsivity and less reasoning to be done by the user. In regards to making critical decisions, incomplete processing creates higher risk.

Research over the years has shown that high impulsivity in teens is a marker of alcohol abuse and substance abuse. When a teen is genetically pre-disposed to substance addiction, early drug use poses a problem. Marijuana (pot, cannabis) use during the teen years creates a greater likelihood of problems with decision making and cognitive functions. Advancing to heavier drugs during this time of life may be due to a lack of reasoning capability. Further, continued use of pot can affect the reasoning capability in the long term. Lacking ability to reason well prevents a teen from determining what is and is not safe, making them more prone to take risks without realizing the real danger. This is a compelling reason against teenage marijuana use.

There is great debate among health professionals about the negative short- and long-term effects of marijuana use among adolescents and teens, including whether or not those effects are permanent. The one factor that seems to be agreed on by professionals on both sides of the debate is the lack of protection of vital synapses in the pre-frontal cortex of all teens, which makes them vulnerable to the effects of marijuana.


Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work and a CATC IV in addictions counseling. She teaches meditation and mindfulness, specializing in addiction and trauma. She also leads workshops and seminars on treatment of addictive disorders and stress reduction.

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