Dangers of synthetic marijuana

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration enacted an emergency ban on synthetic marijuana after thousands of teens have been hurt, even died after smoking it.   It's a problem not only nationwide, but here in Jacksonville.

Makers of synthetic marijuana are accused of misleading customers into  thinking fake pot is harmless compared to illegal drugs, but ER doctors will tell you,  that's not the case.  In fact, the effects can be frightening.

"The patients were fighting, thrashing, and needing eight or nine big people to hold them down," explained Christopher Colwell, MD, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Denver Health Medical Center.

The patients are usually young and in state after state and city after city the warning is out that synthetic marijuana is dangerous.

In a public service announcement released by Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, the sheriff says, "Spice, K2, it's worse than a drug. It's made with toxic chemicals and the combinations change all the time. The makers push their product on our kids using bright packages and cartoon characters. Smoking spice or K2 is like taking poison."

Synthetic marijuana is sold under a variety of names like Black Mamba, Killer Clown and K2 like Rutherford points out in his PSA.  It is crushed herbs or plant materials that looks like marijuana, but is treated with chemicals, some that can cause serious health effects. 

"The age ranges that we've seen go from 13 to 55. So, as young as thirteen, which is concerning to us. We are hoping that parents and teachers get involved and talk to their teenagers about the dangers of synthetic marijuana," said Tista Ghosh, Director, Division of Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The substance is illegal here, the problem is, as Rutherford's PSA warns, as quickly as one of these chemical substances becomes illegal, the makers simply replace it with a different dangerous substance. 

WATCH: Sheriff Rutherford's public service announcement

Some signs parents can look for to help determine if your child is using synthetic marijuana can include:

  • Agitation
  • Elevated blood pressure and heart rate
  • Loss of control
  • Pale Skin
  • Excessive sweating

Synthetic marijuana was attributed to more than 11,000 emergency room visits in 2010.  The substance has been linked to psychosis, kidney, brain damage, and in a few cases, has been associated with heart attacks.

Poison Control reports getting calls around the country, including here in Jacksonville from people after they have taken synthetic marijuana.

Health effects can include:

  • Suicidal and other harmful thoughts and/or actions.
  • Intense hallucinations and psychotic episodes.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Fast, racing heartbeat and higher blood pressure.
  • Severe agitation and anxiety.
  • Muscle spasms, seizures, and tremors

If you or someone know has used synthetic marijuana call your local Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.  However, Poison Control says dial 911 immediately if someone stops breathing, collapses or has a seizure.

Copyright 2014 by Ivanhoe Broadcast News and News4Jax.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.