-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
TUESDAY, Feb. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Synthetic marijuana
products, also known as Spice or K2, are potentially very dangerous
for the kidneys, new research suggests.
Case studies analyzed by doctors from the University of Alabama
at Birmingham found that this designer drug, which mimics the
effects of marijuana, has been directly linked to serious kidney
The researchers suggested that doctors should suspect the use of
synthetic marijuana when patients, particularly young adults, have
unexplained acute kidney damage. They pointed out these man-made
drugs can't be detected in routine drug screenings.
"Cases of acute coronary syndrome associated with synthetic marijuana use have been reported, but our publication is the first to associate use with acute kidney injury," study co-author Dr. Gaurav Jain, an assistant professor in the nephrology division, said in a university news release. Abnormally rapid heart rate and seizures have also been reported with synthetic marijuana use, he noted.
The doctors examined four cases of acute kidney damage that were
linked to the use of synthetic marijuana. In each case, an
otherwise healthy young man went to the emergency room due to
nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain after using the drug. All of
the men, the researchers noted, lived in the same town in
northeastern Alabama, and all of the cases occurred within a
Three of the men had an acute kidney injury that caused their
volume of urine to be abnormally low. The fourth man had a drop in
effective blood flow to the kidney. Three of the men had a kidney
biopsy that showed the death of cells in the kidney that secrete,
reabsorb, collect and transport urine. Although this condition can
lead to kidney failure, in these cases the men regained their
kidney function and did not need dialysis, the study authors noted
in the news release.
Because all of the men had used synthetic marijuana, the doctors
suggested that how the drug is manufactured may have played a role
in its dangerous effects to the kidneys. They pointed out that
synthetic marijuana is made with certain additives, which may be
toxic to the kidneys.
However, the investigators could not confirm that the drug's
preparation causes kidney damage because they couldn't analyze
samples of the synthetic marijuana the men took or the men's blood
and urine samples, which were no longer available.
"There is very little information regarding the ingredients in synthetic cannabinoids that are sold on the streets, although it is known that additional compounds are added to the preparations," said Jain. He suggested that it is "very likely" that a substance that is toxic to the kidney was added to the drug used by the patients.
The doctors concluded that patients with acute kidney injury
should be asked about use of designer drugs, such as synthetic
marijuana. "If they don't get to a physician in time, the damage to
their kidneys could be permanent, and they could end up on
dialysis," cautioned Jain.
The researchers pointed out that synthetic marijuana has become
increasingly popular over the past few years because it's
relatively cheap and difficult to detect with drug screening
The research was released online in advance of publication in
the March print issue of the
Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about
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