Three percent of high school seniors in a recent study reported current use of synthetic cannabinoids, and nearly half of those users said they used the drugs more than three times in the past month.
Synthetic cannabinoids (SCs), commonly marketed as “Spice” and “K2,” are potent new psychoactive compounds with a high risk of adverse health outcomes.
Some compounds found in SCs resemble those in marijuana and are often marketed as being similar. In reality, SCs have been found to have a potency ranging from 2 to 100 times stronger than marijuana, making adverse health outcomes of SC use exponentially greater than marijuana use.
Daily drug use
To counter the shortage of research in this area of high school drug use, Joseph Palamar of New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research and his team conducted the first nationally representative study, published in the journal Pediatrics, to examine current (past 30-day) use of SCs.
“This finding is important because it implies that half of current users are using SCs more than once or twice, which may suggest more than just mere experimentation,” says Palamar, also an assistant professor of population health at NYU Langone Medical Center. “In fact, 20 percent of current users reported use on 20 to 30 days in the past month, suggesting daily or almost-daily use.”
“The fact that one-fifth of current adolescent SC users report using these drugs in a daily or almost daily basis is of concern,” notes Silvia Martins, senior author of the study and an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University. “This is particularly notable due to all possible adverse effects associated with SC use.”
The article draws data from Monitoring the Future, a nationwide ongoing annual study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students. The survey takes place in approximately 130 public and private schools throughout 48 states in the US. Roughly 15,000 high school seniors participate annually.
“Males, African Americans, and users of various other drugs were found to be at particular risk for frequent SC use,” says coauthor Monica J. Barratt of the Drug Policy Modelling Program, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia.
It’s legal (for now)
SC use is closely tied to marijuana use, as 8 out of 10 current SC users also reported current marijuana use. Therefore, the authors compared current SC users who were also current marijuana users to the “marijuana-only” users who did not report current SC use.
“Evolving generations of SC compounds are increasingly harmful and poisonous to overall health…”
Findings from the study revealed that compared to marijuana-only users, fewer SC users perceived that SC experimentation and occasional use placed themselves at great risk of harm. SC users were more likely than marijuana-only users to report high perception of risk of using marijuana occasionally. Implications of this finding show a potential for lack of knowledge about health risks of SC among its youngest users.
“If there are students using synthetic cannabinoids because they genuinely believe they are less risky than marijuana, this misconception must be addressed through better education stressing the greater danger posed by synthetic cannabinoids,” says Palamar.
In addition, pointing to the fact that many SCs are not (yet) illegal, Palamar notes “some students may deem real marijuana as a riskier substance because it is illegal to possess. While arrest should in fact be a concern for marijuana users, these new synthetic compounds are becoming too dangerous and are in no way a safe alternative to marijuana.”
Current SC users also tend to be current users of other drugs.
“Concurrent use of other drugs such as alcohol can make adverse outcomes more likely,” stresses Palamar. “Our findings help allow clinicians and public health experts to determine who is at risk for SC use and possibly poisoning from SC use, so appropriate directed intervention education measures can be deployed.”
“Evolving generations of SC compounds are increasingly harmful and poisonous to overall health, making effective prevention efforts more important than ever,” explains Barratt.
Although previous studies have revealed that marijuana users are at high risk for SC use, this study further revealed risk factors among current marijuana users that increase risk of current use and higher-frequency use of SCs.
“Our research calls for future prevention focused primarily on marijuana users, especially male and/or African-American marijuana users who appear to be at greatest risk for frequent use,” says Palamar. “Marijuana users who use other drugs are at highest risk for currently using SCs, so particular focus must be paid to these individuals to prevent increasingly dangerous and severe health outcomes among young users.”
Source: New York University