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Synthetic Spice Marijuana use among Army users

According to a study conducted by Social Work researchers from the University of Washington, Synthetic Cannabis is the preferred drug of choice among active duty US military personnel who use illicit drugs. Synthetic marijuana, also known as Spice, is made from Cannabis plant material coated with chemicals that are designed to mimic THC, the psychoactive compound found naturally in marijuana.  The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has listed several of synthetic marijuana’s main chemical compounds as Schedule 1 substances, and obviously illegal.  Due to legal restrictions, producers are always altering their chemical compounds to remain technically legal, thus exposing users to an ever changing cocktail of chemicals and exposing them to unknown hazards and risks associated with dangerous chemical compounds.

Adverse health effects linked to synthetic cannabis use have not been widely studied yet, but hospital emergency rooms have reported seizures, nausea, vomiting, and cardiovascular and respiratory problems among users. Psychological effects of using synthetic marijuana can include anxiety, confusion, agitation, irritability, depression and memory loss issues.

Some of the study’s other reported findings include: Users of synthetic marijuana were younger and less educated than those who were dependent only on alcohol. Users were more likely to be single and earned less money than other service personnel who were dependent on other drugs or alcohol.  Users preferred synthetic Cannabis because they believed it left their systems more quickly than traditional cannabis. The study noted no differences related to ethnicity, race, service deployment locations, history or religious choice. Researchers also found that synthetic cannabis users were two-and-a-half times more likely to develop drug dependence than those who used other drugs (but not alcohol).

An additional hazard associated with habitual synthetic marijuana use was needing more and more of the substance to achieve the same effect, or “high” a hallmark of drug dependence. More than three-quarters of the study’s users admitted using the drug for much longer than originally intended (i.e., planning to take just a few puffs after work, but then smoking it for hours).

The research is online and will be published in the July 2014 issue of Addictive Behaviors.


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