K2, Synthetic Marijuana Sending Kids to the Emergency Room

K2, Blaze, Bliss, Spice:  Risky, but Legal

K2 packets by Gresham

Recently, at Howard County General Hospital, a teenager was brought to the emergency room because he vomited every ten minutes for two hours after smoking legal “marijuana” in a high school bathroom. In a separate instance, a teenager threatened to kill himself after smoking synthetic marijuana. This prompted his parents to call the police, who brought him to the hospital.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Following a nationwide trend, children in Howard County and elsewhere in the State, are buying legal “marijuana” at gas station convenience stores and on the internet.  Local stores report a brisk business, selling thousands of dollars a month of the substance to teens.  The problem is, synthetic “marijuana” isn’t marijuana; It is much worse.

This fake weed is marketed as a natural and legal herb under many names, including Spice, K2 and Black Mamba.  While still legal in Maryland, it is not natural. It is a combination of various plants and unregulated chemicals manufactured in an attempt to mimic the effects of cannabis.  These chemicals are dangerous; they are untested and manufactured in basements and garages with no regulation.  The drugs are sold in condom-sized pouches and are used to make cigarettes costing as little as three dollars each.

Synthetic marijuana can cause serious medical problems, including heart attacks and death.  Fortunately, to date no teens in Howard County have died, but many have been treated in the Emergency Room for a variety of conditions including intractable vomiting, psychosis and the overwhelming desire to commit suicide.  Despite this, convenience stores keep selling it, and teens keep smoking it.

Although some states have made these substances illegal, and bills are currently making their way through legislatures in Maryland and D.C., making these substances illegal is challenging. Manufacturers continually make minor tweaks to the chemicals to skirt the law.

Ultimately, it is up to us, as physicians, parents, teachers, and teens to spread the word that synthetic “marijuana” is dangerous and that just because it is legal does not mean that it is safe.



David Monroe, M.D., is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University and has served as the Director of the Children’s Care Center at Howard County General Hospital since 1996. He has been a member of the National Health Services Corps, providing pediatric care to underserved children, and a member of the executive committee of PECARN, a national pediatric emergency care research network. He has lived in Columbia for more than 20 years and enjoys the challenges and rewards of caring for children.



1 Comment

  1. elisabeth

    Dr. Dave,
    Thank you for writing about this so vividly. Very scary stuff. Your experiences with teens in the ER need to be publicized much more. (Perhaps you and the teens who had these horrible experiences would consider speaking at some high schools?) I’m going to show my teen your post.

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