Synthetic cannabinoid data point to high risk
Poison control centers report a surge in calls, prompting a new push for tighter regulation.
Synthetic cannabinoids have been marketed as safe, legal, herbal alternatives to marijuana, but the data from U.S. poison control centers say otherwise.
Poison center calls linked to synthetic cannabinoids surged roughly fourfold in just the first few months of 2015, according to a report from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The sudden rise shows that tighter regulation of such substances is sorely needed, according to the authors of the CD Creport.
“Multiple other recent outbreaks suggest a need for greater public health surveillance and awareness, targeted public health messaging and enhanced efforts to remove these products from the market,” the researchers, led by CDC epidemiologist Royal Law, wrote in the center’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Synthetic cannabinoids (whose aliases include synthetic marijuana, Spice, K2 and Black Mamba) are made by spraying synthetic psychoactive chemicals on to plant matter, which can then be smoked or consumed.
Because the producers of the psychoactive chemicals can continually tweak their formulas, it can be hard for government regulators to keep up.
The researchers analyzed the numbers from the National Poison Data System, which tracks the monthly calls to all U.S. poison centers. The number of calls in April had shot up to 1,501, a 330% increase from the 349 calls made in January.
From January to May, poison centers received 3,572calls linked to synthetic cannabinoid use, a 229% jump from the 1,085 calls received during the same period in 2014.
A total of 626 calls reported that the synthetic cannabinoids had been used with multiple substances; the top two were alcohol (144) and plant-based marijuana (103).
Negative effects seemed to hit older users harder; those in their 30s and older than 40 were more likely than those ages 10 to 19 to suffer “severe” outcomes, the authors wrote. The median age of users was 26.
Amongthe commonly reported health effects: agitation (1,262), rapid heart rate (1,035) and vomiting (585).
And for the 2,961 with a reported medical outcome, 335 (11.3%) suffered either highly dangerous or potentially deadly effects; 15 deaths were reported, up from five during the same period in 2014.
“The increasing number of synthetic cannabinoid variants available, higher toxicity of new variants, and the potentially increased use as indicated by calls to poison centers might suggest that synthetic cannab-inoids pose an emerging public health threat,” the study authors wrote.
THE RISE in calls to poison control centers related to synthetic cannabinoids appears to contradict claims that they are a safe alternative to marijuana.