About 3% of high school seniors are using synthetic cannabinoids (SCs), which can be highly potent, according to a new study.
“These are students who are at current risk of experiencing adverse health outcomes from the newest generation of SCs and also due to concurrent use of other drugs,” authors wrote in the study “Synthetic Cannabinoid Use Among High School Seniors” (Palamar JJ, et al. Pediatrics. Sept, 11, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2017-1330).
SCs, which are known by names like Spice and K2, contain chemicals similar to tetrahydrocannabinol in cannabis but can be 100 times stronger and can result in tachycardia, seizures, psychosis and death, according to the study.
Previous studies have found high school seniors’ use of SCs in the past year dropped from 11.4% in 2011 to 3.5%. In this study, researcher sought to look at current use, defined as within the past 30 days.
They used data on high school seniors from the 2014 and 2015 Monitoring the Future surveys and found 2.9% were using SCs, about half of whom had used them at least three days in the past month.
Among current SC users, 80.6% also currently used marijuana and 95.6% had ever used marijuana. Previous studies have found students who use marijuana are more likely to go on to use SCs, but SC use doesn’t predict marijuana use.
Compared with marijuana-only users, SC users in this study were more likely to use other illegal drugs like LSD, cocaine and heroin and to have parents with lower education.
Teens who use SCs tended to be male, black or frequent users of marijuana or other drugs, according to the study.
Researchers said prevention efforts should focus on these teens and should ensure they understand the health risks associated with SCs.
“If there are students using SCs because they genuinely believe they are less risky than marijuana, this misconception should be addressed through better education programs stressing the greater danger posed by SC,” they wrote.
They said some teens may use SCs instead of marijuana to avoid getting into legal trouble, but more research is needed.