An Antidote For Synthetic Marijuana?

By Kelly Burch 10/16/17

Researchers suggest that an anti-obesity drug may be able to stave off the effects of drugs like K2.

Packets of synthetic marijuana
Packets of synthetic marijuana

Synthetic marijuana—known as Spice, K2, or other street names—has been known to cause poisoning and severe intoxication. Now, researchers in the United Kingdom say that an anti-obesity drug could be used as an antidote for severe synthetic marijuana intoxication. 

A study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology in September found that compounds like the one found in the anti-obesity drug rimonabant may help reverse the effects of synthetic cannabis poisoning, according to Medical News Today. Known as cannabinoid receptor antagonists, these molecules could potentially be lifesaving for people who are adversely affected after taking drugs like Spice. 

“Cannabinoid receptor antagonists have been widely used and so may provide an acceptable single-dose antidote to cannabinoid intoxication,” researchers wrote. “This use may save human life, where the life-threatening effects are mediated by cannabinoid receptors and not off-target influences of the synthetic cannabinoids or non-cannabinoids within the recreational drug mixture.”

The study was conducted on mice, so there is a need for further studies. However, the results could be important, especially as overdoses related to synthetic cannabinoids increase, as a CDC report from 2016 showed. 

“These are dangerous drugs,” Jeffrey Brent, director of the Toxicology Investigators Consortium, told STAT News last year. “We are seeing a surge of medical complications from people using this class of drugs.”

Last year Spice made headlines on a few different occasions. In April of 2016, the drug was blamed for a series of overdoses in Los Angeles that left 10 people in the hospital. 

“To my knowledge it's a horrible substance called Spice or ‘K2.’ It is being sold out of the tents in the San Pedro and San Julian corridors and driving people completely out of their minds,” LAPD Officer Deon Joseph told the LA Times. “Especially those already struggling with mental illness ... the secondhand ingestion of it seems to be dangerous as well.”

In February of this year, San Antonio, Texas officials released a warning about the dangers of a particular batch of synthetic marijuana. 

"The symptom complex is similar, it’s just the dose is higher in this new product," said Dr. David Miramontes, medical director for the San Antonio Fire Department. "So if you smoked enough of the convenience store stuff you could get into the dangerous mode, just like you could with this. But the problem is the high potency stuff is sneaking up on people and they are in trouble before they know it." 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.