Synthetic Marijuana Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Understanding Teen Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Understanding Teen Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Synthetic marijuana, also often referred to as K2 or spice, is a designer drug that is often promoted as being a “safe” alternative to traditional marijuana. However, with a significant increase in reports of overdoses, hospitalizations, and deaths, synthetic marijuana has proven to be an extremely dangerous drug.

What may be even more concerning is that the quality and consistency of the drug’s contents can vary widely. This means that the exact reactions that will occur as a result of using this drug are not entirely clear. While one individual who uses synthetic marijuana may experience a rather enjoyable high, another individual may end up in the emergency room after one dose.

If you have a child or adolescent who has begun abusing synthetic marijuana, it is important to get him or her treatment as soon as possible in order to prevent the development of serious, if not deadly, consequences.



According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), synthetic marijuana is the second most frequently abused drug among high school seniors, trailing only traditional marijuana. ONDCP also reported that male high school students were twice as likely as female students to use synthetic marijuana.

Despite a nationwide ban on synthetic marijuana initiated by the United States government in 2012, the production, distribution, and use of this toxic substance remains extensive. Between January and June 2014, poison centers throughout the U.S. reported nearly 800 cases of synthetic marijuana exposure. In March 2014, more than 100 people were treated for synthetic marijuana overdoses.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Since synthetic marijuana is still fairly new, research is still being conducted to identify conclusive causes and risk factors the place a person at an increased risk for the development of a synthetic marijuana abuse problem. Consider the following current hypotheses:

Genetic: It has been previously established that addiction runs in families, which suggests that the onset of addiction has a strong genetic component. This means that if a young person has a family history of substance abuse or addiction, he or she is more likely to develop a problem him or herself. Furthermore, an individual’s personality and temperament are also impacted by genetics and can influence his or her susceptibility to begin using various drugs, including synthetic marijuana.

Environmental: In addition to genetics, environmental factors often play a role in why a young person may start to experiment with, and subsequently became addicted to, substances like synthetic marijuana. For example, individuals who are exposed to the use of alcohol and/or other drugs in the home are more likely to begin engaging in the abuse of such substances. Additionally, individuals who have been the victim of abuse, neglect, or crime often use substances, such as synthetic marijuana, in an attempt to self-medicate the distressing emotions they experience.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Preexisting mental health condition
  • Exposure to substance abuse
  • Witnessing crime and/or violence
  • Exposure to highly stressful or chaotic environments
  • Lack of parental involvement
  • Inconsistent parenting during childhood

Signs of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Signs of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

A variety of chemicals are used to make synthetic marijuana, so the symptoms associated with synthetic marijuana abuse can vary considerably. Examples of symptoms that could indicate that someone is abusing synthetic marijuana may include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Regular absences from school
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Unprovoked, angry outbursts
  • Physical aggression
  • Alternating between extreme episodes of hyperactivity and extreme episodes of lethargy
  • Sudden change in peer group
  • No longer engaging in activities that were once enjoyed

Physical symptoms:

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

Cognitive symptoms:

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

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mania
  • Excessive agitation and irritability
  • Periods of emotional detachment

Effects of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Effects of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Synthetic marijuana is still a fairly new drug, thus the long-term effects that result from its abuse have not yet been determined. However, the prolonged abuse of any substance is likely to lead to the development of a number of negative effects. Some effects of synthetic marijuana abuse that have been reported include:

  • Family conflict
  • Destruction of interpersonal relationships
  • Inability to be successful at school
  • Immediate need for hospitalization
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Psychosis
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Presence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Sudden death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders

A young person who is abusing drugs, such as synthetic marijuana, may also be suffering from a co-occurring mental health condition at the same time. Some of the most common conditions that are known to occur alongside the abuse of synthetic marijuana include:

  • Additional substance use disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Personality disorders

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal: Young people who use synthetic marijuana for a prolonged period of time are at risk for experiencing withdrawal symptoms should they stop using the substance. Examples of possible symptoms that can arise during synthetic marijuana withdrawal may include:

  • Excessive anxiety
  • Feeling extremely lethargic
  • Violent temper tantrums
  • Nausea and diarrhea
  • Hungry, but unable to keep food down
  • Hot and/or cold flashes
  • Diarrhea
  • Additional flu like symptoms
  • Isolation
  • Intense cravings

Effects of synthetic marijuana overdose: Any time an individual ingests more of a substance that he or she can metabolize, he or she is at an increased risk for experiencing an overdose. An overdose on synthetic marijuana should be considered a medical emergency and treatment should be sought immediately in order to prevent a fatal outcome. Some signs that may indicate a young person may have overdosed on synthetic marijuana include:

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

SUWS of the Carolinas is an oasis in the desert for our family. My desperate call for help to their admissions team was met with proactive, sound direction as to how to handle a serious chemical dependency issue with a teen.

– Anonymous Parent