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Study: Synthetic cannabinoid use linked to risky behaviors :

March 13, 2017

Teens who use synthetic cannabinoids (SCs) are more likely to take risks with their physical and sexual health than those who only have ever used marijuana, according to a new study.

The report is one of two released Monday in Pediatrics exploring SC use. The second found teens with depressive symptoms or who use alcohol or marijuana are more likely to later use SCs.

SCs contain chemicals similar to tetrahydrocannabinol in cannabis but are much more potent and can result in heart and kidney damage, psychosis and death. Teens may mistakenly see them as safe and gravitate toward them due to their accessibility, low cost and inability to be detected on a standard urine test.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) used data from the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey on 15,624 high school students to explore the behaviors of teens who have used SCs.

They examined 36 health risk behaviors in categories of injury/violence, mental health, sexual health and substance use. The results are published in the study “Health Risk Behaviors with Synthetic Cannabinoids vs Marijuana” (Clayton HB, et al. Pediatrics. March 13, 2017,

The authors found 29.5% of youths had used marijuana only, and 9.4% had ever used SCs. Roughly 98.4% of those who had used SCs also had used marijuana. About 61% of students had never used either.

The students using SCs were more likely to use other substances than marijuana-only users, and both were more likely to do so than non-users.

Teen use of either substance was significantly associated with most injury/violence behaviors, and those who had used SCs were more likely than marijuana-only users to engage in three of the 11 — riding with a driver who had been drinking alcohol, skipping school for safety concerns and getting into a physical fight.

In the mental health category, both types of uses were associated with the three behaviors — feeling sad/hopeless, seriously considering suicide and attempting suicide — but there was not a significant difference in likelihood.

Both types of uses also were associated with most risky sexual behaviors, all seven of which were more likely for the SC users than marijuana-only users.

The authors said too few children are receiving substance use prevention education.

“To prevent marijuana and the use of synthetic cannabinoid, it is important that health professionals and school-based substance prevention programs include strategies that reduce initiation of marijuana and synthetic cannabinoid use, particularly among students younger than 13 years of age,” they wrote.

In the other study released today, “Longitudinal predictors of synthetic cannabinoid use in adolescents” (Ninnemann AL, et al. Pediatrics. March 13, 2017,, researchers used 2011 survey data from 964 high school students in Texas to look at predictors of synthetic cannabinoid use. They found adolescents were more likely to use SCs if they had previously exhibited depressive symptoms or used marijuana or alcohol.

Previous anxiety and impulsivity were not associated with future SC use. SCs actually may induce anxiety due to the lack of cannabidiol, according to the study.

Researchers also found SC users don’t necessarily go on to use marijuana, and the least likely SC users were African-Americans and females.

Like the CDC researchers, the authors stressed the importance of prevention due to “the substantial risks associated with even a single episode of SC.”

“… prevention programming for SC use may be wise to take a tailored approach focusing specifically on reducing risk for use among marijuana users as well as those involved in the criminal justice system,” they wrote.

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