Study finds dangerous drug use trend in high school seniors

Synthetic cannabinoids known as Spice or K2 are potent new psychoactive drugs and are closely tied to marijuana use.
By Amy Wallace  |  Sept. 11, 2017 at 12:28 PM
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Sept. 11 (UPI) -- A study from New York University has found that the use of synthetic cannabinoids is on the rise among high school seniors.

The study, {link:published in the September edition of Pediatrics: "http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2017/09/07/peds.2017-1330" target="_blank"), found synthetic cannabinoids, or SCs, which are potent new psychoactive drugs, are being used among high school students at an increasing rate.

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

SCs marketed as Spice or K2 have compounds similar to those found in marijuana , but have a higher potency ranging from two to 100 times stronger than marijuana, increasing the adverse health outcomes greater than those found from marijuana use.

Researchers found that 3 percent of high school seniors reported current use of SCs, with nearly half of those users reporting using more than three 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," Palamar, also an assistant professor of Population Health at NYULMC said. "In fact, 20 percent of current users reported use on 20 to 30 days in the past month, suggesting daily or almost-daily use."

SC use is closely linked to marijuana use with eight out of 10 current SC users reporting marijuana use as well.

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

Researchers found that SC users were more likely than marijuana-only users to report high perception of risk of using marijuana occasionally.

"If there are students using synthetic cannabinoids 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," Palamar said.

"Concurrent use of other drugs such as alcohol can make adverse outcomes more likely. 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."

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