Treating patients with drug abuse problems is a challenging job, but addiction specialists are now faced with another challenge in the world of drug rehab. A rising number of patients are using synthetic marijuana, a blend of exotic plants that induces a similar high. The complex ingredients in synthetic marijuana create complexities in managing drug rehab.
The Popularity of Synthetic Marijuana
Synthetic marijuana is legal and can be found easily on the Internet and in some smoke shops and bars. This makes it attractive to young adults who don’t want to deal with the hassle of obtaining and hiding illegal drugs. They also don’t show up in urine tests.
The leaves of synthetic marijuana are coated with a mixture of chemicals that are up to 200 times more potent than THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Synthetic marijuana is sold in small (2″ x 3″) foil packets or plastic zip bags. Merchants often advertise it as incense or potpourri.
Results of a study published in The New York Times provided sobering statistics on synthetic marijuana’s presence among high school students. The National Institutes of Health reported that in their study of 46,000 students, one in every nine seniors had used it.
Diverse Reactions in Different Users
Vinny Warren, an addiction therapist with Heartland Human Services in Effingham, Illinois, has seen the diversity of reactions synthetic marijuana can cause in different patients under the age of 18. These diverse unique reactions are one reason drug rehab is so difficult to manage for synthetic marijuana.
Over the past three months, he has seen about a dozen teenagers who have used the drug. Their reactions to the drug were completely different from one another. A few said the drug did nothing to them. A larger part of the group said that they got higher than expected and ended up in the emergency room. Some students even said they were in the intensive care unit for several days waiting for the drug to leave their system.
Factors That Make Treatment Difficult
Addiction specialists must determine multiple factors when treating patients:
- What chemicals were smoked
- Are the chemicals different from the last time the drug was studied
- How much was smoked
- Potency of the drug
- What other drugs was the user taking at the time
- How to encourage users to quit a legal substance
- How to stress that this drug is just as dangerous as an illegal drug
Treatment for synthetic drugs is tricky. Synthetic marijuana producers keep changing the properties of the drug to avoid chances of it being banned by the Drug Enforcement Administration. If a doctor doesn’t know what chemicals are in it, he can’t efficiently treat it.
Original synthetic marijuana contains a chemical called HU-210. The drug can be banned, but bans will become ineffective for that drug once its mixture is changed. Recently, other chemicals like CP 47, 497, and JWH-018 have been used to avert the bans.
Specialists who want to study more about these drugs will find the research lacking. The complexity of the ever-changing drugs makes it difficult to analyze.
Warren says that it’s a learning game with both user and addiction specialist right now. Until more research is done about short and long-term effects of the drug on a wide study of patients, doctors will do their best to stay knowledgeable of the drug with the changes it takes.