Tox Tuesdays: Spice

Welcome to the first edition of Tox Tuesdays, our new biweekly post that will highlight an ongoing issue related to toxicology, from drugs of concern to the latest discoveries. For more information on Neogen’s toxicology division, please click here.

Courtesy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency

Courtesy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency

In recent years, designer drugs such as synthetic cannabinoids (a.k.a., a fancy name for fake marijuana), have become more popular. These drugs, often called spice or K2, are made up of plant material laced with chemicals – many of which have been classified as Schedule I substances by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). This designation means the chemicals are considered highly dangerous and have no approved medical use.  However, it’s often difficult to ban the drug outright because those who make the drug simply change the active ingredient to one not covered by the law.

In 2010, synthetic marijuana was linked to more than 10,000 emergency room visits with 75 percent of those involving people ages 12 to 29. In fact, about 3,800 of those visits were made by teens 12 to 17 years old.

Symptoms of synthetic marijuana use include agitation, nausea, paranoia, tremors and seizures, tachycardia and, in some cases, convulsions1, according to 2011 report published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology.

Often, these drugs are marketed as “legal highs” as they don’t fall under laws governing other controlled substances (as previously stated, regulatory agencies in the U.S. now ban active ingredients rather than specific types of spice, which can be altered simply by changing one ingredient). Germany faced a similar situation in 2009, when the country banned two main active ingredients in spice. However, a month later, officials found versions of spice that simply had altered the chemical compounds2, according to a study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine.

In recent years, spice has become more popular – in 2009, Poison Control Centers in 41 states in the U.S. reported only 13 calls related to spice. In 2010, that number skyrocketed to 2,900. In 2011, it had reached 6,959 calls. Among high school seniors, it is the second most used drug after marijuana2.

For more information on Neogen’s spice test, click here.

1 Schneir A, Baumbacher T (2012) Convulsions associated with theuse of a synthetic cannabinoid product. J Med Toxicol 8(1). doi:10.1007/s13181-011-0182-2

2Johnson, L, Johnson R, Portier R (2013) Current “legal highs”. J Emerg Med. doi:10.1016/j.jemermed.2012.09.147

Update: On April 17, 2014, Ohio banned two chemicals — PB-22 and 5f-PB-22 and their variations — used to make synthetic drugs. To learn more about the ban, click here.

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