Q: With medical marijuana now legal in several states, this drug is receiving a lot of attention. Synthetic drugs designed to imitate marijuana are available on the internet, and even at local stores. Currently, 38 states have banned the sale of these products due to harmful effects of the drugs. What makes these products so dangerous?
A: The drugs, called "K2", "K3", "Spice" and other names, first came to widespread notice in 2008. They are plant derivatives sprayed with synthetic chemicals designed to mimic the hallucinative effects of marijuana, and also to avoid detection on drug screens. Some teens think that they are as harmless as spices found in a cook's kitchen, but these are dangerous drugs specifically created to create a "high" when smoked or inhaled. They are far more dangerous than marijuana, and can be lethal. The side effects include increased heart rate and blood pressure, and altered consciousness. A recent study has shown a series of users from teens to young adults with acute kidney injury, some of whom required dialysis and all requiring hospitalization. Tens of thousands of people have gone to the emergency room with symptoms of a heart attack, even young teens, using these drugs.
Q: How widespread is the problem?
A: A survey in 2011 reported that a bit over 10% of high school students have reported trying it. Another recent national study cited 1 in 9 teens as having used it at some point. Despite that it is illegal in Massachusetts to sell a product designed to produce a high when inhaled, and local police departments working with store owners to educate them on the potential dangers of these products, they are available. The packaging is colorful, attractive, and designed to appeal to teenagers.
Q: What would you recommend?
A: Even if you don't suspect drug use by your teen, talk to him or her in a frank and non-judgmental way. Pick a time when you are relaxed, and have time to spend on the conversation. You can ease into the conversation by first asking about what they see around school, what they hear from their friends, rather than starting directly by asking about their own personal habits. Talk about synthetic drugs specifically - some teens don't see these as "real" drugs, and don't realize the harm they represent.