Social work researchers from the University of Washington have found that among a group of active-duty Army personnel who use illicit drugs, the most abused substance is synthetic marijuana, which is harder to detect than other drugs through standard drug tests.
The research will be published in the July 2014 issue of Addictive Behaviors, but is already online.
Synthetic marijuana, sometimes called "Spice," is made with shredded plant material coated with chemicals that are designed to mimic THC, the psychoactive compound found naturally in marijuana. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has listed several of synthetic marijuana's main compounds as Schedule 1 substances, making them illegal. But producers of the drug keep synthesizing new compounds to try to get around those bans.
"Because the formulation is constantly changing, one batch could be innocuous while the next batch affects you totally differently and you land in the hospital with seizures," said Tom Walton, project director for the UW study and a research coordinator in social work. "So the health effects are very unpredictable."
Those health effects have not been widely studied yet, but emergency rooms have reported seizures, nausea, vomiting, and cardiovascular and respiratory problems. Psychological effects of using synthetic marijuana can include anxiety, confusion, agitation, irritability, depression and memory issues.
The U.S. military has banned synthetic marijuana in all branches of the service.
Participants in the UW study came from the Department of Defense-funded Warrior Check-Up, a telephone-based intervention trial for Army personnel with untreated substance use issues who are ambivalent about making changes or engaging in treatment. All participants were stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state at some point during the 2011-2014 recruitment period.
Nearly one-third said they had used illicit
|Contact: Denise Walker|
University of Washington