Spike in synthetic marijuana use

TRI-CITIES - Experts call it life-threatening drug that you can buy on store shelves. More people are using synthetic marijuana than ever before--- even as the dangers of the drug become alarmingly clear.

KEPR talked to one recovering addict who's been to the other side - and back.

"I was thinking more, more, more and steal, steal, steal," said Shawn.

An addict's desperation knows no bounds--- especially when it comes to synthetic marijuana.

"Once it makes you feel good and you do it long enough, you get addicted - just like anything else in this world," explained Shawn.

"Shawn" was smoking 28 grams a day--- a habit that cost him $300 daily. It took time in detention to turn his life around.

"It was like - what have I done? What am I doing? I've been lying for so many months," said Shawn.

Rehab and being a father have all played their part in recovery.

"I've been clean. Today is my 115th day," stated Shawn.

His is a success story. Shawn's not surprised local health experts say they're seeing more serious symptoms of people abusing synthetic marijuana.

"There have been reports of youths who've had heart attacks because of the use of these drugs," said KGH ER Department Medical Director Dr. Louis Koussa.

Experts tell Action News the drug causes agitation, anxiety and sweatiness at a base level.
More severely, it can bring on seizures and even chronic psychosis. In extreme cases, young people have died or committed suicide.

"They're anxious. They're having hallucinations. They're paranoid," described Dr. Koussa.

"I actually had a seizure from it - and I came back and I was like - where's the pipe?" said Shawn.

"Synthetic cannabinoids function similarly to marijuana's main ingredient - THC. But most of the chemicals are stronger - sprayed onto common herbs and sold as potpourri.

Experts tell KEPR teens not only do teens smoke the drug, they sometimes make an infusion - where they steep it like a tea.

"There's just no way to predict what they're getting, how it's going to affect them or what the long-term side effects are - because there are very little studies done on those," said Dr. Koussa.

Doctors stabilize symptoms with intravenous drugs like benzodiazepines.

The drug can't be detected in a urine sample. And getting a blood analysis is time-intensive.

Shawn says he's seen Hanford workers switch from marijuana to the fake version. But he's made his final decision.

"Dang. I can't do this no more," added Shawn.

Something health officials want, too.

Officials tell parents to watch out for warning signs.
Symptoms include erratic behavior, anxiety, and sweating.