Addiction recovery advocates, hospitals, and law enforcement agencies face significant challenges from the rise of synthetic marijuana, as these powerful and unpredictable drugs—often referred to as “mojo”—are causing a wave of hospitalizations, mental health issues, and public safety calls.
Synthetic marijuana, or mojo, first hit the market in the early 2000s. Mojo is made by treating herbal or organic matter with chemicals that mimic the effect of THC. Mojo should not be confused with Marinol, an FDA-approved form of synthetic cannabis used to treat anorexia in people with HIV/AIDs and to mitigate symptoms such as nausea and vomiting among patients undergoing chemotherapy. Mojo is unpredictable and dangerous, and it has resulted in thousands of emergency room visits, especially for young people.
Until recently, synthetic marijuana was sold in head shops and gas stations throughout the country. Mojo isn’t the benign marijuana substitute you may think it is, however. Knowing more about this substance can help parents recognize when a loved one may be using this dangerous drug, and a clearer view of the facts may convince users to seek drug addiction therapy to end a potentially deadly habit.
How Is It Made – Mojo is made by spraying chemical compounds on dried herbs or spices. There are a variety of different chemicals used to manufacture synthetic marijuana, and part of what makes the drug so dangerous is the fact that consumers have no idea what chemicals were used. There’s no universal standard for making synthetic marijuana, and there certainly aren’t any regulations ensuring that it’s safe.
Synthetic marijuana was originally developed by a Clemson University researcher, John W. Huffman. Huffman created synthetic versions of marijuana to study how THC stimulates a brain receptor. At some point, Huffman’s research fell into the wrong hands, and synthetic marijuana began showing up on the streets. Huffman, who is now retired, has spoken out against recreational use of synthetic marijuana, urging people not to use it, comparing it to playing Russian Roulette.
Mojo Isn’t Its Only Name – Mojo goes by a variety of monikers, including Spice, Black Mamba, Skunk, Zohai, Bliss, Blaze, Fake Weed, Yucatan Fire, Moon Rocks, Cloud 9, and Genie, among others.
More Powerful than Marijuana – Synthetic marijuana is typically much more powerful than natural cannabis. Depending on the chemicals used to create the product, synthetic marijuana can be 1 to 800 times more powerful than marijuana. The thickness of the coat of chemicals applied to the organic material used in mojo can also affect its strength. Material coated with a very light coating may not be powerful at all, whereas material that gets sprayed with a heavy coat could be much more powerful.
Side Effects – Because of its strength and because of the unpredictable chemicals used in manufacturing it, synthetic marijuana can have many side effects beyond the feeling of relaxation and euphoria commonly associated with marijuana use. Some behavioral symptoms of mojo use include aggression, increased risk-taking, and poor academic or work performance.
Physical symptoms may include vomiting and nausea, chest pains, numbness in the hands and feet, muscle spasms, and elevated heartbeat, among others. Some cognitive and psychosocial symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, confusion, psychosis, depressive episodes, and anxiety.
Overdosing – It is possible to overdose using synthetic marijuana. Some symptoms of a synthetic marijuana overdose may include coma, heart attack, seizures, respiratory trouble, and stroke. If you suspect someone has overdosed on synthetic marijuana, it’s imperative to obtain medical attention immediately.
Teen Usage – Teen usage of mojo is, unfortunately, widespread. In 2012, about 11 percent of high school seniors used synthetic marijuana in the past year, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Of the 11,406 emergency room visits linked to synthetic marijuana in 2010, 75 percent of the patients were young adults aged 12 to 29. The vast majority of all patients visiting the emergency room for treatment related to mojo use were males.
Deaths – Deaths from synthetic marijuana use are few, but the number is growing. Newsweek reported that, between January and May of 2015, 15 people died from using mojo—triple the number of people who died from using the substance the previous year.
Drug Testing – One challenge parents and others trying to keep loved ones off mojo face is the fact that drug tests often can’t detect them. Chemists developing synthetic marijuana are constantly changing their formulas and, as a result, drug testing products can’t keep up.
According to the Washington Post, a study by the Office of National Drug Control Policy found that a large number of a sample of young men in the Washington, D.C. parole and probation system tested positive for synthetic marijuana in a specialized drug test, but passed a traditional drug screen. The report advocated improving drug testing.
Potential for Long-Term Damage – Because synthetic marijuana is relatively new, there hasn’t been much research into its long-term effects. Some of the research that has been done suggests that long-term use of mojo can have some very serious health consequences. Studies have found that long-term users of the drug may suffer heart and kidney damage.
Addiction – Mojo users can develop an addiction to the substance. Regular users of the drug often experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, anxiety, depression, and irritability when trying to quit using the drug.
Treatment for synthetic marijuana addiction is still in its infancy, and behavioral and medical treatments for it are being developed. Addiction recovery programs can help users of synthetic marijuana who want to quit, however, providing them with help and support.
Legal Status – In the early 2000s, U.S. law did not fully cover synthetic marijuana, and law enforcement agencies often could not prosecute individuals found in possession of it. As synthetic marijuana has become a growing public health and safety problem, lawmakers have acted to ban the drug. In 2012, the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 was signed into law by President Barack Obama. The law placed synthetic compounds found in synthetic marijuana under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, making them illegal.
The new federal law was a response to the suicide death of David Mitchell Rozga, an American teenager who shot himself with a hunting rifle just an hour after smoking synthetic marijuana.
States have also acted independently to regulate synthetic marijuana. A large number of states have passed legislation banning substances that mimic cannabis.
Drug addiction is a major public health problem in the U.S., affecting millions of people. It’s estimated that addiction to drugs and alcohol results in $740 billion in costs related to crime, health care, and lost work productivity each year. Synthetic marijuana addiction is just as serious as an addiction to heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine, and it often requires an addiction recovery program to overcome.
If you or someone you know has an addiction to mojo, help is available. A good addiction recovery program can equip you with the tools needed to abstain from using this dangerous drug. When searching for a program, it’s important to find a rehab facility with a proven track record of success.
RECO Intensive is a Florida drug rehab program serving the Delray Beach area. A well-established program, RECO Intensive offers both inpatient and outpatient care, along with aftercare treatment programs. RECO Intensive takes a holistic approach to recovery, offering methodologies tailored to clients’ individual needs. If you or a loved one needs help overcoming a synthetic marijuana problem, contact RECO Intensive today to learn more about how their specialized recovery solutions can help.
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