Curiosity Drives Young Adults to Try Synthetic Marijuana

Curiosity Drives Young Adults to Try Synthetic Marijuana

Recent research findings indicate that young adults often initiate synthetic marijuana use out of curiosity regarding this substance’s mind-altering effects.

Synthetic marijuana is one of the most common names for a group of artificially produced substances that access the brain through the same chemical pathways used by THC, marijuana/cannabis’ main active ingredient. Consumption of these substances, which is concentrated among young adults and teenagers, can have serious, severe or catastrophic consequences for any given person. In a study published in December 2014 in the Journal of Drug Education, researchers from the University of Cincinnati investigated the reasons young adults enrolled in college start using synthetic marijuana. They concluded that mere curiosity often provides the main motivation.

Synthetic Marijuana

Synthetic marijuana products, also known as synthetic cannabinoids, were originally developed as part of research efforts focused on understanding the ways in which THC reaches the brain and produces its mind-altering effects. The creators of these substances never meant for them to see real-world use in humans. Despite this fact, synthetic marijuana gradually escaped the control of laboratory environments and entered the range of substances illicitly or illegally consumed by drug users across the U.S. Laboratory names for some of the original synthetic cannabinoids include JWH-018, HU-210 and JWH-398. Street forms of these substances go by a variety of typically more catchy names, including Spice, K2 and Skunk.

Although the original creators of synthetic marijuana were studying the ways in which THC and other natural cannabinoids reach the brain, they created substances that are commonly far more powerful than THC. This means that consumption of any given batch of K2, Spice or any other synthetic cannabinoid can expose the brain and body to dramatically exaggerated THC-like effects. Examples of these exaggerated effects include spikes in blood pressure, significantly reduced blood flow to the heart, paranoia, hallucinations, convulsions, intense irritability or agitation, an abnormally rapid heartbeat and failure to respond after passing out or falling asleep. In some cases, synthetic marijuana use results in fatal changes in heart function. Synthetic marijuana consumers also have risks for developing symptoms of substance addiction.

Who Experiences Dangerous Outcomes?

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration tracks the number of people across the U.S. who require emergency room treatment in the aftermath of synthetic marijuana consumption. Figures from this agency indicate that 75 percent of all synthetic marijuana-related ER visits in the U.S. occur among children and young adults between the ages of 12 and 29. Among people in this broad age range, preteens and teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 have the highest chances of requiring ER treatment. In descending order, the next highest rates of risk exposure occur among young adults between the ages of 18 and 20 and young adults between the ages of 21 and 24.

Why Do Young Adults Initiate Use?

In the study published in the Journal of Drug Education, the University of Cincinnati researchers used a project involving 338 young adults enrolled in college to explore common motivations for initiating a single episode of synthetic marijuana use or an ongoing pattern of synthetic marijuana intake. All of these young adults filled out a detailed questionnaire that, in addition to addressing the reasons for consuming the drug, looked at issues such as common places to purchase synthetic marijuana and common side effects associated with synthetic marijuana consumption.

The researchers concluded that 17.1 percent of the study participants had consumed a synthetic marijuana product at least once. They also concluded that about 3 percent of the participants had recently consumed the drug. Among those individuals with a past or current history of use, the most common primary motivation (present in 19.2 percent of cases) was curiosity about the effects of synthetic marijuana. In descending order of popularity, other cited primary motivations included a desire to get “high” (17.4 percent of cases), a desire to experience good feelings associated with being “high” (10.6 percent of cases), a desire to fit in socially with others (4 percent of cases) and a desire to meet the expectations of a peer group (3.8 percent of cases).

The study’s authors concluded that young adult women in college typically try synthetic marijuana at a somewhat earlier age than young adult men in college. Older college students (i.e., graduate students and people in the last two years of undergraduate school) commonly reported starting use of the drug at an older age than their counterparts in the first two years of undergraduate school.

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