A new study says current drug tests which don’t screen for synthetic cannabinoids (SC) are likely to be missing significant drug use — and users.
The study by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research calls for updated testing for SC, also known as synthetic marijuana.
Not too long ago, there weren’t even any valid tests for SC. Now, drug testing companies are just catching up and adding SC screens. One potential road-block: Adding screens for SC can be expensive.
Researchers found 39% of a sample of young men from the Washington D.C. parole and probation system tested positive for SC but passed a traditional drug screen. The percentage was lower, but still significant, among parolees in two nearby counties: 20% in Virginia and 13% in Maryland.
The findings likely apply to more than just people who have been through the criminal justice system, according to the researchers. People who undergo routine testing for work are also unlikely to be flagged for SC use.
Head researcher Eric Wish said SC has already become a drug of choice among people who need to avoid having a positive drug test for various reasons, including work.
SC is commonly known as K2 or Spice. It’s sold in colorful packets for between $9 and $12. It’s a psychoactive substance chemically similar to the active ingredient in marijuana that is applied to plant material and smoked.
Some studies have shown use of SC is already alarmingly high, especially among younger people. According to a 2012 survey, one in nine 12th graders in the U.S. reported using them, making it the second most frequently used illegal drug after pot in the age group.
And this usage has grown very quickly. SC was first reported in the U.S. in December 2008. There’s also a growing number of synthetic drugs that fit this category. In 2009 there were just two types known. As of 2012 there are more than 50.
The effects of SC on a person are unpredictable due to a constantly changing variety of chemicals used in making it.
The potential effects of using SC include:
- severe agitation and anxiety
- fast, racing heartbeat
- elevated blood pressure
- tremors and seizures
- dilated pupils, and
- suicidal or other harmful thoughts and actions.