Synthetic Marijuana: What Parents Should Know

  • Published
  • By Earl Rivers
  • 1st Special Operations Medical Operations Squadron
Last year, 11 percent of high school seniors reported use of synthetic marijuana, also called Spice, according to the 2012 Monitoring the Future Survey, which measured drug, alcohol and cigarette use among U.S. adolescents.

Spice refers to a wide variety of herbal mixtures which produce experiences similar to marijuana, said Capt. Shannon Branlund, 1st Special Operations Medical Operations Squadron clinical psychologist and Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program manager.

"Spice is abused mainly by smoking, and is falsely marketed as a safe and legal alternative to marijuana," Branlund said. "It is composed of dried, shredded plant material and synthetic cannabinoid compounds that are responsible for its psychoactive effects."

Spice users often report side effects such as lethargy, altered perception, and relaxed or depressed mood. Some individuals experience psychotic symptoms including extreme anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations.

Spice abusers who were taken to emergency rooms reported symptoms such as rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, confusion and hallucinations.

These illegal drugs can also raise blood pressure and result in reduced blood supply to the heart. In a few cases, Spice has been associated with heart attacks. Furthermore, regular users may experience physical withdrawal and other symptoms of addiction.

"Due to the fact that the chemicals used in Spice have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has designated the five active chemicals most frequently found in Spice as Schedule I controlled substances," said Branlund. "Therefore, it is illegal to use, sell, buy, possess, distribute or manufacture them."

The synthetic cannabinoid compounds, found in Spice products, act on the same brain cell receptors as tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the primary psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, said Maj. Brent Harlan, 1st SOMDOS psychiatrist and mental health chief.

"Some of the Spice compounds bind more strongly to brain cell receptors, which could lead to a much more powerful and unpredictable effect," Harlan said. "Because the chemical composition of many products sold as Spice is unknown, it is likely some varieties also contain substances that could cause dramatically different effects than the user might expect."

Parents should consider discussing drug use with their children, including the dangers of Spice.

Parents can also consider the following positive parenting tips recommended by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse for enhancing psychological resilience in children:
  • Communication. It helps parents catch problems early, support positive behavior, and stay aware of what is happening in their children's lives.
  • Encouragement. It builds confidence and a strong sense of self, and it helps parents promote cooperation and reduce conflict.
  • Negotiate solutions. It offers parents a way to work together to solve problems, make changes, promote and improve cooperation. Also, it teaches youth how to focus on solutions rather than problems, think through possible outcomes of behavior, and develop communication skills.
  • Set limits. It helps parents teach self-control and responsibility, show caring, and provide safe boundaries. It also provides youth with guidelines and teaches them the importance of following rules.
  • Supervision. It helps parents recognize developing problems, promote safety, and stay involved.
  • Know your child's friends. It helps parents improve communication, reduce conflict, and teach responsibility.
For more information on substance abuse prevention, education, outreach, treatment, and referral services, contact Hurlburt Field ADAPT at (850) 881-4237.