New York State Health Commissioner Warns of the Dangers of Synthetic Marijuana

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 23, 2012) – Dr. Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H. , the Commissioner of the Department of Health, has sent an alert to emergency departments, county health officials, and health care providers throughout New York State warning of an emerging threat to public health associated with the use of synthetic cannabinoids. These substances, generally referred to as "synthetic marijuana", consist of plant material coated by chemicals that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. These products are being sold as a "legal alternative" to marijuana in convenience stores, smoke shops, and tobacco stores with brand names such as "Spice", "K2", "Blaze" and "Red Dawn X."

"These substances are a threat to public health and need to be removed from commercial sale and distribution in New York. Health care providers need to be aware of this threat," said Dr. Shah.

Calls to New York State poison control centers regarding use of these products have grown exponentially over the last two years. Recently, health officials within New York State linked two deaths to the use of synthetic marijuana.

Synthetic marijuana is widely abused by teenagers and young adults. A recent study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse revealed that 11.4% of all high school students used synthetic marijuana within the past year. Side effects of use include rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, confusion, hallucinations and renal failure.