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Smoking Synthetic Marijuana Tied to Kidney Damage and Failure

First Posted: Feb 16, 2013 12:59 PM EST

Think twice before you light up. The use of synthetic cannabinoids, sold under the names of synthetic marijuana, Spice and K2, have been linked to kidney damage, according to a new report.

The report examined 16 cases where acute kidney damage was reported in six different states after synthetic marijuana had been smoked. These patients became ill only days--and sometimes only hours--after smoking the fake pot. Symptoms included vomiting, nausea and flank and abdominal pain. All of the patients involved were in different stages of kidney failure when they went to the hospital.

Synthetic marijuana, or K2, is a designer drug that is dissolved into a solvent. It is then applied to a plant material and smoked by users. The active ingredient in real marijuana, THC, is a psychoactive. The effects of this ingredient are mimicked when smoking synthetic marijuana. Although many of these fake marijuana products are sold in the form of incense with warning labels that say they're not for consumption, people tend to smoke them anyway as a marijuana alternative.

Unfortunately, there are many issues with this designer drug--not just kidney failure. Problems such as hallucinations, agitation and a rapid heartbeat have been tied to the drug. More recently, a Texas student went into a coma after purchasing and smoking the synthetic weed with her friends. In 2010 alone, 11,406 people were sent to the ER for smoking the synthetic marijuana.

As the use of this designer drug rises, unpredictable and unexpected health problems occur. In addition, the ease in availability of these products add to how rapidly the chemicals in the products change; it creates a recipe for disaster when it comes to the public health.

Michael Scwartz, a co-author of the report, said in an interview with USA Today, "Synthetic cannabinoids are not safe alternatives to marijuana. There are unexpected and unpredicted problems that can occur."

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