For years, the harmful effects of increasingly popular designer cannabis products called "Spice" or "K2" have puzzled scientists.
But now a group of researchers is reporting progress toward understanding what makes them so toxic. The study, published in the ACS journal Analytical Chemistry, describes development of a method that could someday help physicians diagnose and treat the thousands of young adults and teens who end up in emergency rooms after taking the drugs.
Jeffery Moran and colleagues note that synthetic marijuana, often marketed as "natural incense," "potpourri," Spice or K2, is a significant public health concern, and 1 in 9 high school seniors admit recent use. The products appear across the United States and Europe, and are the second most popular drug after real marijuana for many American teens and young adults. The substances produce a "high," but also can cause a wide range of dangerous side effects including seizures, hallucinations, severe kidney damage, psychotic behavior and heart attacks. Scientists are quickly playing catch-up to understand how these fake pot products work in order to identify them in users' urine and to treat the devastating health effects, which, in some cases, plague users for months after they initially take it.