What makes synthetic marijuana dangerous?
Synthetic marijuana uses THC, which is in natural marijuana, and has been modified by chemists. The chemical can cause impaired judgment and has a potential psychotic effect. Synthetic marijuana lacks cannabidiol, which adds a "natural protectant" to natural marijuana, said Dr. Asher Gorelik, Director of Medical Services and Quality for BayCare Behavioral Health.
People see synthetic marijuana as safer, but it is more harmful than natural marijuana.
"You don't know what's in there or what it might do," Gorelik said. "You are taking an illegal chemical (THC) and turning it into something no one has classified."
Is your teen using synthetic marijuana?
The person may be very agitated, irrational, delusional, paranoid and may isolate himself or herself. This goes above routine warning signs of substance abuse such as changes in behavior, drops in school performance, and being dishonest, Gorelik said.
Watch if your teen is buying extra eye drops and pay attention to the terminology they may be using for synthetic marijuana, including "K2" and "spice." Parent education is important, said Sandi Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker with Tranquil Shores.
What is unique about teen addictions?
Many teens will try things or experiment.
"They may not be truly addicted. A little education gets the message out and they're done," Gorelik said.
Johnson says she lets teens know they are being manipulated by the manufacturers because of the packaging, placement and accessibility of synthetic marijuana in stores. When kids realize this, they "don't like it" and often stop, she said.
Another group of teens may be "troubled," and many programs are available. Family involvement is very important, Gorelik said.
Substance abuse could have long-term consequences. Teens' thinking skills are not fully developed. "Because the brain's not fully formed when they start putting drugs in there. The concern is for the long range development of the brain," Gorelik said.
Synthetics are hard to treat because the chemicals change regularly and it's hard to keep up with the modifications. Long-term researchers don't have a good feel yet for the effects of the chemicals, Gorelik said.
When a person comes into the emergency room, doctors must first "protect" the person, calm them down and allow nature to take its course, working the chemicals out of the body if possible. Doctors often don't want to give a lot of medicine to complicate the process, Gorelik said.
In cases where someone threatens harm or shows psychotic symptoms, "don't mess around with it, get them help" or contact law enforcement to assist if needed, Gorelik said.
The treatment follows the general approach for anyone using an addictive substance. The entry point is outpatient counseling and participating in a 12-step program, Gorelik said.
It is also important to determine if other conditions are present in the user, such as mood illnesses, depression, attention deficit disorder, or attention deficit hyperactive disorder, Gorelik said.
Nature of Addiction
Addictive substances "feel good to use to that person. It is often an individual thing to how that individual person's brain is wired," Gorelik said.
"Treatment helps find a way for the person to find other things that feel rewarding. (Therapy) teaches other skills to cope with stresses of life," Gorelik said.
Family issues can be a big trigger for stress. It is common to have a family history of mood illnesses and addictions, Gorelik said.