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Using synthetic marijuana to beat a drug test is a game of Russian Roulette

A recent article in the Houston Chronicle identifies Houston as having a “key role” in the popularity of a new, dangerous and readily available synthetic cannabinoid.  While the concoction is given the nickname of “synthetic pot” or “synthetic marijuana,” it is not the same animal at all.  Calling it synthetic marijuana is a misnomer as it is much more dangerous to use and potentially lethal.

Synthetic or “Designer” drugs are chemical compounds mixed up in labs (much like we saw on the TV show Breaking Bad) meant to mimic the effects of various drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and LSD.  The compounds are packaged and marketed as potpourri or incense, and sold openly at convenience stores, gas stations, and head shops. 

There are five active chemicals most frequently found in the synthetic drugs which the DEA has designated as Schedule I controlled substances, making it illegal to buy, sell or consume them.  But, while these compounds are not legal, through carefully crafted advertising copy and tweaks to the chemical composition, they stay one step ahead of the DEA, so criminal charges rarely stick for those who make, sell, or use them.  In Houston, more than 1 million packets of this dangerous new breed of drug were seized by the DEA during the past two years.   

A New Front in the War on Drugs Provides a New Way to Beat a Drug Test

They attract primarily teen users, but there are adults as well who use synthetic marijuana to try and get a high that won’t necessarily be caught in a drug test. This may seem like a smart way to beat a drug test, but these compounds are extremely dangerous and their effects cannot truly be compared to their “natural” counterparts. 

The compounds go by the names Spice, K2, Yucatan Fire, Klimax, Kush, Twilight, Sexy Monkey, and others in colorful packaging.  While they are often labeled, “not for human consumption,” they are typically smoked like marijuana.  The are compared to marijuana because the cannabinoid compounds found in these products act on the same cell receptors as THC, the primary psychoactive component of marijuana.

Some of the compounds found in synthetic pot however, bind more strongly to those receptors, which could lead to a much more powerful and unpredictable effect.  The potency of the drugs can vary so greatly, that users can never be sure what they are smoking or what their reaction to it might be from one use to the next and from one brand to another. 

While it is true that these compounds can’t be detected in routine drug tests, there are drug tests available that will identify synthetics.  As the availability and popularity of these drugs increases, employers will have to decide if they want to spend the extra money to test for synthetics as well as routine drugs of abuse.  Meanwhile, the users of these synthetic drug compounds are finding some downsides. 

Short-term effects of using synthetic marijuana include loss of control, lack of pain response, increased agitation, seizures, vomiting, profuse sweating, uncontrolled/spastic body movements, elevated blood pressure, heart rate, and palpitations.  A Houston teen that used a synthetic pot is now blind and partially paralyzed after suffering a series of strokes from taking the drug.  The CDC has reported several cases of kidney failure attributed to the synthetic drugs. 

While the long-term effects are not known, based on what public health officials are seeing in hospitals around the country, use of these easily obtainable compounds is a game of Russian Roulette that could result in organ failure, coma, stroke and possibly death.  That’s a big risk to take to try to beat a drug test or get a cheap buzz. 

What about your business?  Do you currently test for synthetic drugs?  Have you run across the issue in your business or personal lives? 

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