Synthetic Cannabinoid Effects Detailed in 5 Year Study from the American College of Medical Toxicology ToxIC Registry Database —The Largest Clinical Report to Date


Synthetic cannabinoids (SCs), which are sold under hundreds of brand names including “spice”  or “K2”, have become common drugs of abuse in the US. These man-made drugs are associated with severe central nervous system and cardiovascular effects.  

July 13, 2017 — ACMT will host a public Tweet Chat about Synthetic Marijuana Abuse and  Treatment on Thursday, July 20 from 4:00-5:00pm EST. To join log on to Twitter and search  #firesidetox. 

A recent article published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology (JMT) reports detailed clinical descriptions and management by medical toxicologists treating patients with synthetic cannabinoid exposure. Information was collected using ACMT’s national Toxicology  Investigators Consortium (ToxIC) database between 2010 and 2015. This study provides the largest series to date of patients presenting to emergency departments, inpatient medical floors,  and intensive care units due to synthetic cannabinoid exposure. 

Synthetic cannabinoids (SCs), which are sold under hundreds of brand names including “spice”  or “K2”, have become common drugs of abuse in the US. The man-made drugs are marketed as  “herbal incense” and viewed by many as a legal high. SCs are consumed in a variety of ways including smoking, vaping, and drinking. According to the report, the drugs are commonly abused by individuals hoping to evade detection by drug screens, including active military members. After marijuana, SCs are the second most abused illicit drug class by adolescents.  However, the use of SCs is still widely underreported due to limited methods of detection. 

SCs are far more dangerous than marijuana, partially due to greater potency. Clinical effects are unpredictable due to the wide variety of chemical structures, inconsistent dosing, and variable potency of individual products. “Teens are having seizures, hallucinations, and delirium, and those effects can last several days,” said Diane Calello, MD, contributor to this study. 

Medical toxicologists participating in the ACMT ToxIC Registry collected 353 cases of SC  toxicity (at sites nation-wide) between 2010 and 2015. Of these cases:  

In this study, nearly a quarter of patients were admitted to intensive care units. According to  Andrew A. Monte, MD, the lead author, “Increased public health education is needed. Expanded  and improved testing strategies may decrease use by those hoping to evade detection and would  certainly allow bedside providers an opportunity to provide substance abuse interventions.” 

Article information: “Characteristics and Treatment of Patients with Clinical Illness Due to  Synthetic Cannabinoid Inhalation Reported by Medical Toxicologists: A ToxIC Database Study” Monte, A.A., Calello, D.P., Gerona, R.R. et al. J. Med. Toxicol. (2017) 13: 146. doi:10.1007/ s13181-017-0605-9 

The American College of Medical Toxicology (ACMT) is a professional, nonprofit association of more than 700 physicians with recognized expertise in medical toxicology. ToxIC  (Toxicology Investigators Consortium) is ACMT’s nation-wide research and collaboration network. Link to ToxIC website: 

The Journal of Medical Toxicology (JMT) is the official print journal of the American College of  Medical Toxicology. JMT is dedicated to advancing the science and practice of medical toxicology through the publication of original articles, illustrative cases, review articles, and other special features. Link to JMT webpage: 

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