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The Center for Disease Control’s weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report highlights an alarming trend that is causing acute kidney injury: synthetic cannabis or synthetic marijuana use.

In collaboration with state public health officials, epidemiologists looked at the lab reports and clinical records of twelve patients that had visited the emergency room with complaints of abdominal pain and sickness after smoking a synthetic cannabis product from March to December, 2012. These products also cause nausea, rapid heart rate, hallucinations, seizures, and psychosis. A scary product that has even scarier side effects.

Of the sixteen cases that were examined, 5 were from Oregon and had smoked products called “Mad Monkey”, “Clown Loyal”, and “Lava.” Toxicologists examined their blood and kidney function tests and found that many of these people were at greater risk of long-term kidney damage, a scary side effect for kids in their teens and twenties.

What is synthetic cannabis and why is it dangerous?

In 2010, two synthetic products called “Spice” and “K-2” exploded in popularity among young people looking for an alternative to “illegal” drugs. Synthetic cannabis products have become increasingly available in the last few years – they can be purchased on convenience stores and on the internet. These products are not regulated by the FDA, and little state or federal legislation governing their use exists. Teenagers and young people looking for an alternative to illegal street drugs may turn to synthetic cannabis products, but have no idea of the dangers that using them poses to their health. With names like “Mad Monkey” and “Mr. Happy”, and flavorings like blueberry and bubble gum, it is no wonder that young people are intrigued by a product marketed as a safe and legal alternative to street drugs.

Educating young people about the dangers of all drugs – whether they be illegal or somewhere in the gray area like these products – is important. Raising awareness and making sure that parents and educators understand that kids are turning to these substances will help keep kids from trying them in the first place, but more needs to be done. A man was just convicted of conspiracy in Florida for running a drug ring that distributed a synthetic marijuana product called “Mr. Nice Guy.” Cities around the nation are imposing bans on sales of these products, and police and hospitals have become more aware of the dangers posed to users.

Oregon is a state with medical marijuana use, but almost one-third of the studied cases came from our state. What is worse is that four of the five Oregon cases mentioned in the report were kids 18 years old or younger. We must do something more to keep our communities safe and keep these dangerous substances out of their hands.

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