Signs & Symptoms of Synthetic Marijuana

Learn more about the causes, symptoms, and effects of synthetic marijuana addiction. Understanding what you or your loved one is going through can be the first step to getting help.

Understanding Synthetic Marijuana Addiction

Learn about synthetic marijuana addiction and substance abuse

The use of synthetic marijuana has recently become a prominent topic within the media. Throughout the past few months, reports of hospitalizations, overdoses, and even deaths, from the use of synthetic marijuana has become a prominent headline among many media outlets. Despite the federal ban placed on the substance in 2012, the production and distribution of synthetic marijuana, also known as “K2” or “spice,” seems to have only increased.

In its purest form, the synthetic chemical compounds that synthetic marijuana is composed of are either oil or solids. This chemical compound is then sprayed onto a mixture of dried herbs and spices before being distributed. Synthetic marijuana can be used by smoking, inhaling, or ingesting, and the high that individuals receive from using this drug begins immediately after the substance enters the brain. This drug has consistently been marketed as a “safe” substitute for illegal drugs, but there is absolutely nothing safe about this substance.

One of the scariest aspects of this substance is the fact that no one knows for sure what the chemical compounds themselves consist of. The formulations of the chemicals that are used in developing these compounds are not consistent. Everyone’s bodies will react differently to the consumption of various toxins, meaning that one person could use the drug and achieve a “high,” while another person could use the drug and immediately fall into a state of psychosis.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for synthetic marijuana addiction

Due to the complicated nature of synthetic drugs, there still must be much research conducted in order to provide more conclusive results on the causes and risk factors that lead an individual to begin using the substance, and then to ultimately becoming addicted to the substance. The most commonly cited hypotheses, however, are briefly described in the following:

Genetic: Addiction in general has a strong genetic component, as substance addiction is known to run in families. Genetics also play a role in the development of an individual’s personality and temperament, both of which can increase a person’s susceptibility to begin using various drugs, including synthetic marijuana.

Physical: Presently, scientific studies on the effects that spice has on the human brain are still ongoing. However, researchers have stated that the cannabinoid compounds that synthetic marijuana products consist of act on the same cell receptors in the brain that THC (the primary psychoactive element of marijuana) does. With synthetic marijuana, however, the composition of these compounds are believed to bind more strongly to the brain’s cell receptors, leading to much more powerful, and more unpredictable results.

Environmental: Environmental factors can play an enormous role in whether or not a person will begin experimenting with drug use, including synthetic marijuana. It is not uncommon for individuals who grow up in chaotic home environments to begin using mind-altering substances as a means of escaping from the reality of the tumultuous world around them. Individuals who have suffered from various forms of trauma or abuse are also more likely to use substances as a way to numb themselves from their inner turmoil and emotional pain. Additionally, people who are exposed to drug use either at home or amongst peers are at a higher risk of using drugs themselves.

Risk Factors:

  • Family or personal history of mental illness
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Being male
  • Being younger in age
  • Lack of parental involvement
  • Being exposed to violence and/or crime
  • Being exposed to drug use
  • Being surrounded by chaotic or stressful home, work, or school lives

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of synthetic marijuana addiction

As a result of the various chemical compounds that are used to create synthetic marijuana, the way in which individuals display symptoms of use will vary greatly. The following are examples of symptoms that have been reported as being exhibited by individuals who abuse synthetic marijuana:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Sudden, extreme bouts of lethargy
  • Sudden, extreme bouts of hyperactivity
  • Physical aggression
  • Instigative behaviors
  • Sudden, unprovoked tantrums or angry outbursts

Physical symptoms:

  • Panic attacks
  • Reduced or elevated blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Chest pains
  • Muscle spasms
  • Nausea
  • Heart palpitations
  • Seizures

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Altered states of perception
  • Depersonalization
  • Derealization
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Heightened levels of anxiety
  • Heightened levels of depression
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Increased agitation
  • Increased irritability


Effects of synthetic marijuana addiction

Due to the fact synthetic marijuana is fairly new in the prominence of its circulation and use, the Department Enforcement Administration is reportedly still studying the long-term effects that it can have on users. However, the most devastating effect of synthetic marijuana use is sudden, untimely death. Additional effects that are believed to potentially result from the use of synthetic marijuana include:

  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Familial discord
  • Destruction of interpersonal relationships
  • Stroke
  • Seizure
  • Heart attack
  • Psychosis
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Synthetic marijuana addiction and co-occurring disorders

In many cases, individuals who are addicted to drugs are suffering from a mental illness. While this is not true for everyone who abuses substances, those who are struggling with a mental disorder may be seeking out a means of self-medicating the symptoms of that disorder, resulting in their using synthetic marijuana. Some of the mental illnesses that can be associated with the existence of synthetic marijuana addiction can include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Conduct disorder

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal and overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal: If someone has been using synthetic marijuana for a prolonged period of time and then ceases use, he or she has the potential of experiencing withdrawal. This period has been said to last for up to three days and may include the following effects:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Feelings of hunger, but experiencing an inability to keep food down
  • Hot flashes / cold flashes
  • Additional flu-like symptoms
  • Excessive lethargy
  • Excessive anxiety
  • Violent temper tantrums
  • Isolation
  • Intense cravings

Effects of synthetic marijuana overdose: With all of the recent reports of synthetic marijuana overdoses, it is important to recognize that overdosing on this substance should be viewed as a medical emergency and treatment should be sought immediately. The effects of an overdose on synthetic marijuana can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Depersonalization
  • Derealization
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack
  • Coma
  • Death

San Juan Capestrano Hospital taught me techniques that I needed to be able to live a healthy life, without addiction.

– Carlos D.