Synthetic marijuana products, also known as Spice or K2, are
potentially very dangerous for the kidneys, new research suggests.
Case studies analysed 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 damage.
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.
How the study was
"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.
Participants in the
All of the men, the
researchers noted, lived in the same town in northeastern Alabama, and all of
the cases occurred within a nine-week period.
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
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 analyse 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 tests.
The research was released online in advance of publication
in the March print issue of the Clinical Journal of the American Society of
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