Signs and Symptoms of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Youth Care Treatment Center and school has helped teens with synthetic marijuana abuse all over the United States for 30 years. Our unique approach is based off of solid morals and beliefs to help adolescents be successful in turning their lives around.

Understanding Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Learn about synthetic marijuana abuse and substance abuse

Synthetic marijuana, which is also known as K2 or Spice, is a designer drug that is widely misrepresented as being a safe alternative to regular marijuana. Unfortunately, reports of hospitalizations, overdoses, and deaths as a result of this drug have increased dramatically since it was introduced.

One of the greatest concerns of using synthetic marijuana is that the consistency and the quality of the contents found within this substance are not exactly clear. For example, one individual might use synthetic marijuana and develop a pleasant high, while someone else might find him or herself in the emergency room after use.

If you have a child or adolescent who has started abusing synthetic marijuana, it is imperative to provide him or her with the appropriate treatment to avoid the development of serious and possibly lethal consequences.


Synthetic marijuana abuse statistics

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) reports that synthetic marijuana is the second most commonly abused substance amongst high school seniors, taking second place to traditional marijuana. ONDCP also stated that male high school students were two times more likely as female students to use this substance.

Despite a nationwide ban on synthetic marijuana that was put in place by the U.S. government in 2012, the distribution, production, and use of this substance has increased. Between January and June of 2014, roughly 800 cases of synthetic marijuana exposure were reported throughout the country. In March of 2014 alone, over 100 people were treated for overdoses involving synthetic marijuana.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for synthetic marijuana abuse

Since synthetic marijuana abuse is still new in comparison to other substances, research is still being carried out to identify causes and risk factors that put an individual at risk for the development of a synthetic marijuana abuse problem. Consider the following:

Genetic: Addiction tends to run in families, which suggests that the development of addiction has genetic ties. Therefore, if a young individual has a family history of substance abuse or addiction, he or she is more likely to struggle with similar issues as well. An individual’s personality and temperament, which are partially genetically determined, can also factor into his or her chances of developing an addiction to substances like synthetic marijuana.

Environmental: Environmental factors tend to play a role in a young individual’s decision to begin experimenting with drugs like synthetic marijuana. For instance, those who are exposed to alcohol abuse and other substance abuse in their home are more susceptible to partake in the abuse of these substances. In addition, those who have been the victim of neglect, crime, or abuse often abuse substances like these in an effort to self-medicate.

Risk Factors:

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

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of synthetic marijuana abuse

A number of chemicals are used to make synthetic marijuana, and therefore the symptoms linked to the abuse of this substance can vary significantly. Some of the symptoms that one might show if he or she is abusing synthetic marijuana include:

Behavioral symptoms:

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

Physical symptoms:

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

Cognitive symptoms:

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

Psychosocial symptoms:

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


Effects of synthetic marijuana abuse

Synthetic marijuana is still a somewhat new drug, so the long-term effects that can develop from its abuse have not yet been fully determined. However, the continued abuse of any substance is likely to lead to the development of many detrimental effects. Some of these effects can include:

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

Co-Occurring Disorders

Synthetic marijuana abuse and co-occurring disorders

A child or adolescent who is abusing substances like synthetic marijuana might also be battling a simultaneous co-occurring mental health condition. Some of the most common conditions that are known to occur at the same time as synthetic marijuana abuse can include:

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

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Synthetic marijuana withdrawal and overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal: Young individuals who abuse synthetic marijuana for a long period of time are at risk for withdrawal symptoms if they stop using this substance. Some of the potential withdrawal symptoms that one can experience include:

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

Effects of synthetic marijuana overdose: In the event that a young individual consumed more of a substance than he or she can metabolize, he or she will experience an overdose. An overdose on synthetic marijuana should be viewed as a medical emergency and treatment should be obtained immediately to prevent death. Some symptoms of overdose can include:

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

Marks of Quality Care
  • AdvancED
  • American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)
  • National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP)
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval
  • The Jason Foundation

As a parent, I highly recommend Youth Care. We were involved in all aspects of my child's treatment plan, the staff provided a safe and friendly environment, we enjoyed parent day participation and, most importantly, the therapy my child received while at Youth Care was exceptional - pretty much life-changing. My child made more progress there than had been made in years of therapy elsewhere.

– Michelle S.