States with legalized weed have fewer poisonings from synthetic cannabinoid products, study finds

States with more restrictive marijuana laws reported the largest share of exposures to the potentially toxic synthetic drug.

click to enlarge People in states that can legally access sticky buds are less likely to use synthetic weed, a new study found. - UnSplash / Avery Meeker
UnSplash / Avery Meeker
People in states that can legally access sticky buds are less likely to use synthetic weed, a new study found.
People in states that have legalized recreational marijuana are less likely to face exposure to potentially dangerous synthetic marijuana, according to a new study.

The analysis, published last week in the Journal of Clinical Toxicology, found that legalizing recreational weed decreased the likelihood people sought out synthetic cannabinoids, thus reducing their risk of potential toxic exposure.

States that passed adult-use cannabis legalization measures experienced 22% fewer reported quarterly synthetic marijuana exposures during the 2016-2019 study period, according to the study data.

Meanwhile, states with more restrictive marijuana laws reported the largest share of exposures at 56%. In contrast, states with medical marijuana programs accounted for 38.6%, while states where pot was broadly legal experienced just 5.5%.

"This finding suggests a potential effect of policy change on substance use behaviors that may have long-term public health implications," the authors noted.

Health experts have sounded the alarm about potential toxicity of synthetic cannabinoid products, known as "spice" or "K2," which are most broadly used by young people. Consumption can result in rapid heart rates, vomiting, hallucinations, agitation and confusion, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

To come to their findings, the study's researchers analyzed 7,600 reports of exposure to synthetic cannabinoid poisoning taken from National Poison Data System data and parsed those incidents based on whether they occurred in states with or without legal access to cannabis.

Nearly 65% of the exposures they studied required medical attention, and 61  people died after their use of the synthetic drug, according to the data.

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