September 2020

Serious Side Effects Linked to Synthetic Cannabinoids

New reports confirm that using synthetic cannabinoids known as K2/spice can cause life-threatening side effects. It’s important for providers to be aware that these products are growing in popularity, and to recognize signs of toxicity.

K2/Spice is the general name given to a class of over 100 different types of synthetic cannabinoids. They’re man-made and are intended to produce a cannabis-like euphoria when inhaled. But side effects can be much more severe. And six of them are actually classified as Schedule I controlled substances due to their high potential for abuse and side effects. A new case series described 30 patients admitted to the ICU over a two-year period. The researchers found that taking K2/spice can lead to serious brain damage, respiratory failure, and death. While these chemicals aren’t detectable in standard toxicology testing, providers should be aware that coma, extreme agitation, and seizures are among the most common symptoms of toxicity. There’s also evidence that people commonly use K2/spice along with other drugs. In several cases, patients who took opioids with k2/spice did not respond to naloxone.

There’s also concern that some commercially sold CBD products might be contaminated with K2/spice. In a recent case report, an 8-year old who took a CBD product purchased from an online distributor was admitted to the hospital with seizures. Testing showed that the CBD product was contaminated with K2/spice.

There is no known antidote for K2/spice intoxication. And depending on which type of synthetic cannabinoid is consumed, toxicity can be more or less severe. It’s important to educate patients about this growing trend, and to make sure they understand there’s no way of knowing whether the type of K2/spice they use will be dangerous or not. Make sure patients and parents understand that commercially sold CBD products are in a legal gray area, which makes it difficult to find quality products. Contamination with K2/spice, THC or other adulterants is a possibility.

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