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Study: Seizures, coma more common with synthetic cannabinoids than cannabis :

July 8, 2019

Teens using synthetic cannabinoids (SCs) were more likely to experience seizures and coma compared to those using cannabis, a new study found.

SCs, which are known by names like Spice and K2, contain chemicals similar to tetrahydrocannabinol in cannabis but are much more potent. They have been linked to heart and kidney damage, seizures, psychosis and death.

Researchers set out to look at neurotoxic effects of SCs among adolescents compared to cannabis. Theyanalyzed data from the 2010-2018 Toxicology Investigators Consortium Registry on 348 teenagers who were treated in an emergency department (ED) due to synthetic cannabinoid or cannabis exposure.

Drug use was divided into four categories — SCs only, SCs with other drugs, cannabis only and cannabis with other drugs. When SC users added other drugs, they commonly were stimulants like cocaine, amphetamines and 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA). Teens combining cannabis and other drugs typically used stimulants or alcohol.

About 19% of SC-only patients experienced seizures compared to 6% of those using only cannabis, confirming previous research, according to “Neuropsychiatric Sequelae in Adolescents with Acute Synthetic Cannabinoid Toxicity,” (Anderson SAR, et al. Pediatrics. July 8, 2019,

"The developing brain is particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of CB1 (cannabinoid 1) overactivation by SCs, leading to aberrations in the neurotransmitters modulating the seizure threshold," authors wrote.

Similarly, 28.5% of SC-only users experienced central nervous system depression/coma compared to 10.5% of cannabis-only users.

However, cannabis-only users experienced agitation more frequently (63% vs. 23.5%), unlike in previous studies. That changed when teens used multiple drugs. About 47% of ED patients using SCs and other drugs experienced agitation compared to 21% of those using cannabis with other drugs. Those using SCs with other drugs also had higher rates of seizures (29% vs. 8%).

“These results together offer insight into the expected clinical effects of adolescents with acute SC toxicity and emphasizes the need for targeted public health messaging to adolescents about the dangers of using SC, alone or combined with other substances,” authors wrote.

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