Synthetic Marijuana Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Effects

The term synthetic marijuana is somewhat misleading, as this substance is actually a blend of natural plant materials and artificial psychoactive chemicals. Some similarities exist between synthetic and natural marijuana, including the manner in which both substances are usually abused, but the effect of synthetic marijuana can be much more powerful than what is experienced by ingesting natural marijuana. Also, many experts have noted that synthetic marijuana, which is also referred to as spice or K2, may be much more dangerous than natural marijuana.

Understanding Synthetic Marijuana Addiction

Learn about synthetic marijuana addiction

Among the many dangers associated with synthetic marijuana abuse is the fact that there is no standard version of this drug, so users cannot be sure of the type, amount, or potency of chemicals that they are ingesting. Lax production standards and unsavory marketing practices also make it difficult for users to know exactly what substances they are putting into their bodies when they abuse synthetic marijuana. Therefore, it is imperative to seek treatment if you or a loved one is struggling with a synthetic marijuana addiction.


Synthetic Marijuana Abuse Statistics

In 2010, the Drug Abuse Warning Network, or DAWN, recorded more than 11,000 visits to emergency rooms or urgent care centers that were directly related to the abuse of synthetic marijuana. Seventy-seven percent of those cases involved male patients and 75 percent involved patients under the age of 29. From 2011 to 2014, the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) documented 18,548 calls related to the abuse of synthetic marijuana, an average of 4,637 cases per year.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Abusing or becoming dependent upon synthetic marijuana or another illicit substance may be influenced by several genetic and environmental factors, and usually results from a combination of both types. The following are among the more common factors that may lead to a substance use disorder:

Genetic: People whose parents and/or siblings have engaged in substance abuse or become addicted to substances are more likely to experience a similar problem than are individuals whose family history is free of drug abuse. Also, individuals who have a parent or parents who struggled with mental illness are at increased risk for abusing or becoming addicted to synthetic marijuana and other drugs.

As technological advances have expanded researchers’ ability to decode and understand DNA, scientists have identified a number of specific genes and genetic networks that show evidence of influencing a person’s vulnerability for developing a substance use disorder.

Environmental: Many of the issues described in the genetics section above can also be environmental contributors to the development of a problem related to substance abuse. For example, the stress and potential chaos that can result from growing up with parents or siblings who use drugs and/or struggle with mental illness may predispose a person to engage in substance abuse as a means of coping. Other environmental influences on substance abuse and chemical dependency include chronic stress, living in poverty, associating with individuals who abuse drugs, and experiencing trauma.

Risk Factors: 

  • Being under age 30
  • Being male
  • Family history of mental health illness and/or substance abuse
  • Being abused and/or neglected as a child
  • Experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event
  • Low self-esteem
  • Demonstrating aggressive behaviors at an early age
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Poor stress management skills

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Synthetic marijuana abuse may reveal itself via a wide range of signs and symptoms, including many of the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Failure to attend to grooming and personal hygiene
  • Lying or being deceptive about one’s activities and whereabouts
  • Multiple unexplained absences from work
  • Unexplained drop in performance at work
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia
  • Engaging in risky, reckless, or otherwise dangerous behaviors
  • Using substances as a means of coping with failures or celebrating successes

Physical symptoms:

  • Watery eyes and runny nose
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Headaches and nausea
  • Exhaustion

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Delayed reaction time
  • Inability to concentrate or focus
  • Impaired problem-solving capabilities

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Diminished ability to experience pleasure
  • Desire to withdraw from family and friends


Effects of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

The abuse of synthetic marijuana and other drugs can have a significantly negative impact on a person’s ability to live a productive and satisfying life. The following are among the many potentially devastating effects of synthetic marijuana abuse:

  • Cardiovascular distress
  • Damage to liver and kidneys
  • Diminished cognition
  • Job loss and chronic unemployment
  • Family discord, including separation, divorce, and loss of child custody
  • Loss of friendships and other interpersonal relationships
  • Social ostracizing
  • Financial ruin
  • Legal problems, including incarceration
  • Anxiety, panic, and depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Seizure
  • Coma
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Synthetic Marijuana Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

Individuals who have been abusing synthetic marijuana may also be struggling with a variety of co-occurring disorders, including the following

  • Depressive disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Other substance use disorders


Effects of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal: Though the severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms will vary, the following are common among individuals who have become addicted to synthetic marijuana:

  • Powerful urges to use synthetic marijuana or other drugs
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Suicidal thoughts

Effects of synthetic marijuana overdose: Because the chemical composition of synthetic marijuana can vary from batch to batch, overdose symptoms can also vary widely. However, the following are among the common signs that indicate that a person has ingested an unsafe amount of synthetic marijuana and is in need of medical attention:

  • Respiratory distress
  • Unconsciousness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Seizure

I got hooked on synthetic marijuana after getting tired of traditional drugs. I let my addiction affect my relationships with my friends and family. Fortunately, the caring and compassionate staff at Wellness broke me free of my addiction!

– Ronnie G.