Dangerous drug use trend among high school seniors, study reveals

September 11, 2017
Synthetic Cannabinoids marketed as candy. Credit: DEA image.

Synthetic cannabinoids (SCs), commonly marketed as "Spice" and "K2", are potent new psychoactive compounds being used among high school students, with a high risk of adverse health outcomes. Some compounds found in SCs resemble those in marijuana and are often marketed as being similar. In reality, SCs have been found to have a potency ranging from 2 to 100 times stronger than marijuana, making adverse health outcomes of SC use exponentially greater than marijuana use.

"This was the first national study examining current use of these new compounds among . It's essential to investigate those who are current users rather than 'ever-users' in order to understand who is currently at for adverse outcomes," said Joseph Palamar, PhD, MPH, a researcher at New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing's Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (NYU CDUHR).

To counter the paucity of research in this area of high school drug use, Dr. Palamar and his team conducted the first nationally representative study, published in the journal Pediatrics, in which current (past 30-day) use of SCs was examined. In this study, they found that 3% of reported current use, with nearly half of these users reporting use more than 3 times in the past month.

"This finding is important because it implies that half of current users are using SCs more than once or twice, which may suggest more than just mere experimentation," said Dr. Palamar, also an assistant professor of Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center (NYULMC). "In fact, 20% of current users reported use on 20 to 30 days in the past month, suggesting daily or almost-daily use."

"The fact that one-fifth of current adolescent SC users report using these drugs in a daily or almost daily basis is of concern," notes Dr. Silvia Martins, MD, PhD, senior author on the study and an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Department of Epidemiology. "This is particularly notable due to all possible adverse effects associated with SC use."

Dr. Palamar's article, "Synthetic Cannabinoid Use Among High School Seniors," draws data from Monitoring the Future, a nationwide ongoing annual study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students. The survey is administered in approximately 130 public and private schools throughout 48 states in the US. Roughly 15,000 seniors are assessed annually.

"Males, African Americans, and users of various other drugs were found to be at particular risk for frequent SC use," said co-author Monica J. Barratt, PhD, Drug Policy Modelling Program, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

SC use is closely tied to marijuana use, as 8 out of 10 current SC users also reported current marijuana use. Therefore, the authors compared current SC users who were also current marijuana users to the "marijuana-only" users who did not report current SC use.

Findings from the study revealed that compared to marijuana-only users, fewer SC users perceived that SC experimentation and occasional use placed themselves at great risk of harm. SC users were more likely than marijuana-only users to report high perception of risk of using marijuana occasionally. Implications of this finding show a potential for lack of knowledge about health risks of SC among its youngest users.

"If there are students using because they genuinely believe they are less risky than marijuana, this misconception must be addressed through better education stressing the greater danger posed by synthetic cannabinoids," said Dr. Palamar.

In addition, pointing to the fact that many SCs are not (yet) illegal, Dr. Palamar notes "some students may deem real marijuana as a riskier substance because it is illegal to possess. While arrest should in fact be a concern for marijuana users, these new synthetic compounds are becoming too dangerous and are in no way a safe alternative to marijuana."

Current SC users also tend to be current users of other drugs.

"Concurrent use of other drugs such as alcohol can make adverse outcomes more likely," stresses Dr. Palamar. "Our findings help allow clinicians and public health experts to determine who is at risk for SC use and possibly poisoning from SC use, so appropriate directed intervention education measures can be deployed."

"Evolving generations of SC compounds are increasingly harmful and poisonous to overall health, making effective prevention efforts more important than ever," explained Dr. Barratt.

Although previous studies have revealed that marijuana users are at high risk for SC use, this study further revealed risk factors among current marijuana users that increase risk of current use and higher-frequency use of SCs.

"Our research calls for future prevention focused primarily on marijuana users, especially male and/or African American users who appear to be at greatest risk for frequent use," said Dr. Palamar. "Marijuana users who use other drugs are at highest risk for currently using SCs, so particular focus must be paid to these individuals to prevent increasingly dangerous and severe health outcomes among young users."

Explore further: Study identifies teens at-risk for synthetic marijuana use

Related Stories

Study identifies teens at-risk for synthetic marijuana use

March 2, 2015
Synthetic cannabinoids ("synthetic marijuana"), with names like Spice, K2, Scooby Doo and hundreds of others, are often sold as a "legal" alternative to marijuana. Often perceived as a safe legal alternative to illicit drug ...

Getting high in senior year: Study examines reasons for smoking pot

June 29, 2015
Marijuana is the most prevalent drug in the U.S. Approximately 70% of the 2.8 million individuals who initiated use of illicit drugs in 2013 reported that marijuana was their first drug. Despite extensive research examining ...

Study identifies teens at risk for hashish use

April 13, 2015
The recent increase in popularity of marijuana use coupled with more liberal state-level polices has begun to change the landscape of adolescent marijuana use. More potent forms of marijuana, such as hashish, may present ...

'Baby boomers' on dope: Recreational marijuana use is on the rise among adults over 50

December 5, 2016
The recent legalization of recreational marijuana (cannabis) use in California, Colorado, and Washington reflect the sweeping changes in the attitudes and perceptions towards marijuana use in the United States. Eight states ...

Marijuana associated with three-fold risk of death from hypertension

August 9, 2017
Marijuana use is associated with a three-fold risk of death from hypertension, according to research published today in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

Research compares consequences of teen alcohol and marijuana use

September 2, 2014
Growing public support for marijuana legalization in the U.S. has led to public debate about whether marijuana is "safer" than other substances, such as alcohol. In January, President Obama also publicly stated he is not ...

Recommended for you

Study finds medical cannabis is effective at reducing opioid addiction

November 17, 2017
A new study conducted by researchers at The University of New Mexico, involving medical cannabis and prescription opioid use among chronic pain patients, found a distinct connection between having the legal ability to use ...

Insomnia linked to alcohol-use frequency among early adolescents, says new psychology study

November 8, 2017
Insomnia is linked to frequency of alcohol use among early adolescents, according to new Rutgers University–Camden research.

Large declines seen in teen substance abuse, delinquency

October 25, 2017
More than a decade of data indicates teens have become far less likely to abuse alcohol, nicotine and illicit drugs, and they also are less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors, such as fighting and stealing, according ...

Trying to get sober? NIH offers tool to help find good care

October 3, 2017
The phone calls come—from fellow scientists and desperate strangers—with a single question for the alcohol chief at the National Institutes of Health: Where can my loved one find good care to get sober?

Medical students need training to prescribe medical marijuana

September 15, 2017
Although 29 states and the District of Columbia allow marijuana use for medical purposes, few medical students are being trained how to prescribe the drug. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis ...

Protein links alcohol abuse and changes in brain's reward center

September 8, 2017
When given access to alcohol, over time mice develop a pattern similar to what we would call "problem drinking" in people, but the brain mechanisms that drive this shift have been unclear. Now a team of UC San Francisco researchers ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.