Synthetic Marijuana News & Updates: CDC Reveals Increase in Poisoning & Deaths

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Jun 12, 2015 06:00 AM EDT

An alarming new set of figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows the increased incidences of poisoning and deaths from taking synthetic marijuana.

There have been more deaths in the first five months of this year from synthetic marijuana than in all of 2014, according to CDC's report published Thursday.

From January to May this year, there have been 3,572 calls to United States poison centers related to the use of synthetic weed, an alarming 229 percent increase than last year. The majority of the calls were from men (80.7 percent) with the median age around 26 years old. There have also been 15 deaths related to the drug compared to last year's five deaths during the same period.

According to CBS News, synthetic marijuana mimics the effects of THC—the natural psychoactive compound found in real marijuana—but produce a more powerful high through ingestion or inhalation. Some common side effects are lethargy, agitation, vomiting, confusion and tachycardia (fast heartbeat).

These designer drugs are widely available and can be found in small retail outlets and online. Some popular "brand" names are: Spice, Black Mamba, K2, Sexy Monkey, Nice Guy, Twilight, No More Mr. Nice Guy, and many others.

"A lot of these products are marketed as natural and safe and that could be the appeal," said Royal Law, an epidemiologist in CDC's National Center for Environmental Health. "A lot of these products avoid illegality by changing chemical compounds and packaging the drug as 'not for human consumption.'"

Synthetic weed emergency hospitalization has also increased from 11,407 to 28,531 from 2010 to 2011 according to the most recent report by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

These synthetic cannabinoids were not intended for "street use," according to an expert.

"These synthetic cannabinoids were originally designed as research chemicals for use in the laboratory, trying to identify cannabinoid receptors in the brain," SAMHSA toxicology expert Donna Bush said, adding that it should not "be used on the street," Newsweek has learned.

She added that these products are not regulated and that even though they can cause some "high" to some degree, there could be unknown risks that could lead to serious complications.

"You never know what you're getting. Every little bag, every little package can be different because there's no standardization, there's no quality control. These are all products made on the fly," Bush noted.

Yahoo News reports that there are now a total of 3,822 cases related to the synthetic drug from January to June 10 this year. These numbers have already passed 2014's number of only 3,682, according to the data gathered from the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

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