Synthetic Pot Linked To Violence, Risky Sex In Teens

By Kelly Burch 03/15/17

New research compared the behaviors of teens who used synthetic marijuana against those who used the real thing.

Man pouring synthetic marijuana into his hand.
Synthetic Marijuana Photo via YouTube

Teens who use synthetic marijuana are at increased risk for violent behavior, risky sex and abuse of other drugs, according to new research published in the journal Pediatrics this week. 

"The findings indicate that students who report using synthetic marijuana are possibly on a very concerning health trajectory, which is particularly serious given that synthetic marijuana use is relatively common among adolescents," wrote lead researcher Heather Clayton, a health scientist at the CDC. 

About 10% of high school students have reported using synthetic marijuana, so the side effects from synthetic pot could be far-reaching. Authorities have struggled to keep up with continuously changing formulas that sneak into the marketplace. 

"They are coming out with agents almost faster than we can detect them. Parents should monitor their children closely, especially if their child has already been using marijuana,” said Scott Krakower, the assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, New York.

The dangers of synthetic marijuana have been documented even before the most recent study. Spice and K2 are both common brands of synthetic marijuana. The substance was banned in California last year after a string of overdoses, and in Austin, Texas, 90 people were hospitalized after using synthetic marijuana. 

The recent CDC study collected information from 16,000 high school students in 2015. The results showed that teens who used synthetic marijuana were more likely to carry a gun or get into a fight, compared with kids who only used real marijuana. They were also more likely to be victims of dating violence. 

The teens who used synthetic marijuana were more likely to have sex without using a condom or other birth control, researchers found. They were also more likely to have started smoking pot before age 13 than students who used only natural marijuana.  

However, the study does not show causation. It could be that teens who are more likely to engage in risky behavior are also more likely to use synthetic marijuana. 

"While the study does not show that synthetic marijuana use causes these risk behaviors, it's still important for health professionals and school-based substance-prevention programs to focus on strategies that reduce the initiation of marijuana and synthetic marijuana use," said Clayton.

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