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CAYA's corner: By Karen Dickey


Synthetic cannabis dangerous to youth



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August 17, 2011 - As a caseworker for Clarkston Area Youth Assistance, Elissa Fogel has observed an increase in referrals for youths abusing synthetic cannabis.

Though it has been around for awhile and has received national media attention for its harmful effects on users, it appears that there is room for improvement when it comes to local parental awareness.

Produced mainly in China, synthetic cannabis is an unregulated blend of herbs and spices marketed as incense or potpourri, which are laced with one or more synthetic compounds that are chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Trade names have included K2, Spice, Genie, Zohai and Darkness, among others.

Despite labels with the disclaimer "not for human consumption" the blends are ingested or smoked.

These synthetic cannabinoids all have varying degrees of toxicity, so users never know exactly what they are getting.

According to one spokesperson for the Drug Enforcement Administration, some of the products could have a chemical potency of up to 100% more than THC.

The DEA has stated that "emergency room physicians report that individuals using these types of products experience serious side effects which include: convulsions, anxiety attacks, dangerously elevated heart rates, increased blood pressure, vomiting and disorientation."

Self-reported experiences with these products described effects ranging from an intense "cannabis-like" high to severe anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations and nausea.

On March 1, 2011, the DEA imposed an emergency ban on five of the most common chemicals used to produce synthetic cannabis. Michigan is one of several states that have outlawed it.

However, chemists have several options to easily and quickly change the formula to circumvent federal bans and market new products with different names and different chemical compounds, thereby keeping the drugs accessible.

They are readily available on the internet and continue to be sold in some head shops and convenience stores.

A local mom who shared her son's experience with synthetic cannabis stated that kids are not afraid because they perceive it as "all natural" – young people equate retail availability with being safe as well.

Until recently, it was also undetectable in urine drug tests. She first became aware of her son's use in January after receiving a call from school saying that he was acting oddly in class.

"His eyes were real red and he was walking funny."

In May he got caught with the product in his pocket at school. She added that most of his friends have tried it at least once, but probably 20% of the parents know nothing about it.

What should parents watch for? Warning signs include agitation, pale appearance, anxiety or confusion due to hallucinations.

Clarkston Area Youth Assistance is here to help.

For more information on substance abuse and prevention, as well as short-term counseling or referrals to local agencies for long-term intervention, phone 248-623-4313.

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