Causes & Symptoms of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

At Desert Hills, we believe that understanding the signs, symptoms, and possible effects of synthetic marijuana abuse is an important part of the effort to get help for yourself or your loved one. This information can help you identify the problem and begin to explore solutions. Education can be your first step towards recovery from synthetic marijuana abuse.

Understanding Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Learn about synthetic marijuana abuse

Synthetic marijuana is a commonly misunderstood term. Also referred to as synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic marijuana is an informal category of synthetic drugs that look similar to natural marijuana but may actually contain a broad range of chemicals.

Starting in the early 2000s, synthetic marijuana began to be marketed as herbal incense, and sold under names such as Spice or K2. These efforts, along with package labels claiming that the substance was not designed for human consumption, were attempts to circumvent laws that prevent the sale or possession of mind-altering drugs.

As experts had the opportunity to study synthetic marijuana, a few troubling trends began to emerge. For example, tests detected a wide variety in the chemical composition of various types of synthetic marijuana. Research also revealed that synthetic marijuana abuse may be associated with both immediate and long-term damage, including the potential for overdose and addiction.

If you or someone you care about has become dependent upon synthetic marijuana, the good news is that this is a treatable condition. With the right type and level of care, you can overcome the compulsion to use this dangerous drug, and resume your pursuit of a healthy, drug-free future.


Synthetic marijuana abuse statistics

The following statistics about synthetic marijuana were provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC):

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for synthetic marijuana abuse

Your risk for becoming addicted to synthetic marijuana may be influenced by a wide range of factors, including the following:

  • Having a parent or sibling who has struggled with addiction
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness or prior substance use
  • Age (synthetic marijuana abuse is most common among people younger than 30)
  • Gender (synthetic marijuana abuse is more common among men than among women)
  • Trauma or other adversity during childhood

Associating with people who abuse synthetic marijuana

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of synthetic marijuana abuse

A person who has been abusing, or has become addicted to, synthetic marijuana may exhibit many signs and symptoms. The considerable variety of substances that fall into the category of synthetic marijuana makes it difficult to create an accurate and complete list of signs. However, the following are common indicators that a person has been abusing synthetic marijuana:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Declining performance at work or in school
  • Multiple unexplained absences from work or school
  • Failing to meet other personal, professional, or academic responsibilities
  • Being secretive or deceptive regarding activities or whereabouts
  • Neglecting personal grooming or hygiene
  • Losing interest in significant activities
  • Withdrawing from family and friends

Physical symptoms:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Watery or bloodshot eyes
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Racing heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Numbness or tingling in extremities
  • Muscle spasms

Mental symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Impaired perception of time and space
  • Drastic mood swings
  • Depersonalization
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis


Effects of synthetic marijuana abuse

Synthetic marijuana abuse can be detrimental to a person’s physical, emotional, and socioeconomic well-being. Failing to seek proper treatment for synthetic marijuana addiction can put you at risk for numerous negative outcomes, including the following:

  • Damage to heart and lungs
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Stroke
  • Onset or worsening of mental health disorders
  • Strained or ruined relationships with family and friends
  • Unacceptable performance in school or at work
  • Academic failure
  • Job loss
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Financial problems
  • Arrest, incarceration, and other legal problems
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Pervasive sense of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Elevated cholesterol levels

It is important to understand that you can avoid these problems, or begin to heal from past damage, by entering an effective treatment program. When you get professional care for synthetic marijuana use or addiction, you take an essential first step towards a much healthier and more promising future.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Synthetic marijuana abuse and co-occurring disorders

People who become addicted to synthetic marijuana may also have an elevated risk for certain co-occurring mental health disorders, including the following:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression

Withdrawal and overdose

Learn about synthetic marijuana withdrawal and overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal: If you become dependent upon synthetic marijuana, your body will adapt to the presence of this substance. If you try to end your synthetic marijuana use, or if you cannot access the drug, your body will react with a series of distressing symptoms. This experience is known as withdrawal.

Depending upon which chemicals are included in the synthetic marijuana that you have been using, withdrawal can include the following symptoms:

  • Powerful cravings for synthetic marijuana
  • Tachycardia (elevated heart rate)
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Extreme fatigue

Effects of synthetic marijuana overdose: Overdose occurs when you ingest a drug in an amount that overwhelms your body’s ability to safely process it. Overdose is one of the many risks associated with synthetic marijuana abuse. Because the category of synthetic marijuana contains so many different chemicals, it is impossible to be certain what you are putting into your body, which increases your risk of overdose.

Synthetic marijuana overdose can be fatal. Anyone who demonstrates the following signs after using synthetic marijuana may have overdosed and should be brought to the immediate attention of a qualified healthcare provider:

  • Faint, shallow, or strained breathing
  • Dangerously rapid heart rate
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizure

Recovery Really Is Possible

Seeing my sister struggle with, then overcome, her drug addiction with the help of the staff at Desert Hills was life-changing for the both of us. I'm eternally grateful for the help she received.

– Erika G.