Troubling new research suggests that young people who consume synthetic cannabis may be more likely to try other drugs.
In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, it was found that high school students who ingested synthetic cannabinoids were more susceptible to using drugs of other kinds than students who only smoked cannabis.
Synthetic cannabis – also known as K2 or Spice – is marketed as having similar effects to cannabis but tends to be a lot more potent and dangerous than its natural counterpart. For example, one study published last year linked synthetic cannabis with a range of adverse effects – including tachycardia, agitation, nausea, and generalized tonic-clonic seizures.
This new study sought to measure the prevalence of synthetic cannabis use in high school seniors and explore correlated drug use.
“Our aim in this article is to determine risk factors for current use of SCs [synthetic cannabinoids] in a nationally representative sample of high school seniors with a particular focus on recency of use of other drugs,” reads the study.
Researchers used data from Monitoring the Future (MTF), a nationally representative sample of high school students from roughly 130 public and private schools in 48 states. That survey included around 15,000 high school seniors every year.
What they discovered was that, in the past 30 days, 2.9 percent of high school seniors had ingested synthetic cannabinoids and 1.4 percent of them had used them on three or more days in the past month.
Compared with their peers who only consumed marijuana, synthetic cannabis users were far more likely to report recent use of all other drugs – including LSD, opioids, cocaine and heroin – in the questionnaire.
Interestingly, synthetic cannabis users were also more likely to have been raised by parents with lower education levels. This may have some bearing on why synthetic cannabis users were more likely than cannabis-only users to attribute greater risk to occasional marijuana use and less risk to synthetic cannabis use. The authors say this is indicative of “lack of knowledge about the relative health risks of SC compared with marijuana."
The research team hopes this study will help encourage educational initiatives around synthetic cannabis use.
"Prevention needs to be focused primarily on marijuana users, especially marijuana users with risk factors discovered in this analysis,” the write. “Marijuana users who use other drugs, in particular, are at highest risk for currently using SCs, so particular focus needs to be paid to these individuals at high risk."