Synthetic marijuana products are distributed worldwide under countless trade names and packaged in colorful wrappers to appeal to teens, young adults and first-time drug users. But its use can be life-threatening.

Head shot of Dr. Joy Alonzo

Dr. Joy Alonzo

Joy P. Alonzo, Pharm. D., assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, says very little is known about the drug in the medical community.

“It won’t come up on a typical toxicology screen,” Dr. Alonzo says. “It’s just so new that no one is used to seeing it.”

People of all ages have tried synthetic marijuana, which health experts say can be just as addictive and deadly as meth or even crack cocaine.

“These drugs were intended to study marijuana and were not tested in humans,” says Steven Peterson, Ph.D., associate dean of academic affairs and professor of pharmaceutical sciences at TAMHSC-Rangel College of Pharmacy. “Now by using these drugs, people are turning themselves into the test guinea pigs. If you use these, you are becoming the guinea pig.”

Head shot of Dr. Peterson

Dr. Steven Peterson

Synthetic marijuana has been linked to kidney damage, and other adverse effects include agitation, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, racing heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, tremor, seizures, hallucinations and paranoid behavior.

“The inconsistent reaction in people is because of the inconsistency of the mixture and potency of the synthetic; there is no quality control,” Dr. Peterson says. “There is much more consistency in nicotine for cigarettes because it is monitored. You do not know what you are buying and using when you take synthetic marijuana.”

— Cheri Shipman

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