Although synthetic cannabinoids such as Spice and K2 are much more potent than natural cannabinoids, they are often mixed with dangerous chemicals, including stimulants, blood thinners and opioids that can make them deadly. An outbreak of synthetic cannabinoids contaminated with anticoagulants in 2018 caused excessive bleeding that affected more than 300 people and took at least eight lives.
A study using data sourced from the National Poison Data System (NPDS) recently revealed that states with legal marijuana access record significantly fewer synthetic cannabinoid poisoning cases. Study authors hypothesize that cannabis policies that allow legal sales provide little incentive for people to use synthetic cannabinoids, which are harder to spot in drug tests but can result in deadly health outcomes for users.
Published in the “Journal of Clinical Toxicology,” the study reported that states with “permissive” marijuana policies had 37% fewer cases of synthetic cannabinoid poisoning annually from 2016 to 2019. States with medical cannabis programs, which generally allow patients to use high-THC marijuana products for medical purposes, had 14% fewer cases of synthetic cannabinoid poisoning.
Furthermore, states that only allowed medical cannabis use had 36% fewer cases of reported poisonings compared to states with recreational markets that allowed cannabis sales to all adults aged 21 and over. The study recorded a total of 7,600 reported cases of synthetic cannabinoid poisoning from 2016 to 2019, with 64.8% of the cases needing medical attention. The study also reported that 61 people lost their lives due to synthetic cannabinoid exposure during the study period.
The research involved researchers from the University of Arkansas College of Medicine, Oregon Health Authority and the Washington State University College of Nursing. The groups divided states into three categories: medical (states that allow high-THC products), permissive (states where recreational cannabis is legal) and restrictive (states that don’t allow both medical and recreational cannabis).
According to lead study author and WSU associate professor of nursing Tracy Klein, their study provides evidence of the potential public health benefits of legalizing marijuana and creating regulated cannabis markets. Synthetic cannabinoids are especially attractive to people who could lose their employment due to cannabis use because the substances don’t usually show up in drug tests for delta-9 THC, the main psychoactive agent in cannabis. This includes people in law enforcement, the military and other occupations that require regular drug tests. Klein says that based on this study and prior research, cannabis users are much more unlikely to choose synthetic cannabinoids when they can purchase legal cannabis without any legal ramifications.
These findings are a boost to the people who have always believed that allowing cannabis companies such as American Cannabis Partners to operate legally is a sensible move in several ways, including protecting public health.
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