Over 16 new cases of people suffering from acute kidney injury after smoking synthetic marijuana have been reported in six states across the U.S.

The report, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), identified an association between the use of synthetic cannabinoids (SCs), such as “Spice” and “K2”, and kidney damage.

The sixteen patients began to experience symptoms of kidney failure within days of smoking the substance, complaining severe abdominal pains as well as vomiting and nausea.

All of the patients visited emergency departments and were subsequently hospitalized. Most of the them, except one fifteen year old girl, were males aged 15-33 (at average age of 18.5). Fifteen of them suffered from nausea and vomiting and twelve experienced abdominal, back, or flank pain. None of the patients had pre-existing renal dysfunction.

Synthetic marijuana is a designer drug derived from natural herbs which are sprayed with certain chemicals, mildly mimicking the psychoactive effects of the active ingredient in cannabis called THC.

Spice drug
Synthetic marijuana, a “designer drug” derived from herbs and sprayed with chemicals

The health effects of smoking SCs are thought to be riskier than regular cannabis. In fact, last year at the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting, researchers revealed findings to suggest that recreational use of synthetic cannabis might lead to psychosis lasting for up to months.

People often smoke synthetic forms of marijuana as it can be cheaper and not appear on drug tests, making it an appealing alternative to regular cannabis.

According to the CDC:

“The expectation of a more intense high than that induced by marijuana, easy access, affordability, and avoidance of detection by many commonly used urine drug tests all contribute to the growing abuse of SCs, especially among male adolescents”

They added:

“Public health practitioners, poison center staff members, and clinicians should be aware of the potential for renal or other unusual toxicities in users of SC products and should ask about SC use in cases of unexplained AKI.

Health-care providers should be aware of renal and other unexpected toxicities from use of SC products, especially with newer SC compounds.”

In 2010, a total of 11,406 emergency department visits were associated with synthetic marijuana use, according to the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).

The symptoms linked to SC usage included:

Written by Joseph Nordqvist