Researchers Link Smoking Synthetic Marijuana to Increased Risks of Kidney Failure

synthetic marijuana

Once every week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia publishes its Morbidity and Mortality report, with the purpose of alerting the general populace as well as those working in the fields of healthcare and public health of recent trends and developments in the subjects of death and disease across the country.

The report for the week of 15 February made headlines as far away as France, as evidenced by the fact that the English language edition of French newspaper La Tribune made room for a short article on the CDC report. The topic of this noteworthy report was the incidence of acute kidney injury among those who smoke synthetic marijuana. The drug has been the focus of increasing levels of negative attention over the past year, with large numbers of people being reported as suffering serious health side effects, while at the same time synthetic marijuana is on its way to becoming one of the most widely abused illicit drug in the United States. This new series of acute kidney injury cases is only the latest in a long line of potential hazards which have been linked to the drug.


The events which led up to the CDC taking action to warn us about the risk of suffering acute kidney injury after using synthetic marijuana began in Wyoming. Public health officials in that sparsely populated state received three separate reports of individuals who had been admitted to the emergency room with symptoms of kidney injury. Common signs of this condition include pain in the abdomen or flank, nausea, and vomiting, as well as back pain in some cases. Sometimes, the symptoms will begin a few hours after smoking synthetic cannabis, while in other cases it may take several days. After learning of the fact that several locals had been injured by synthetic marijuana, the Wyoming health officials moved to warn the CDC, in the event that other states may be experiencing similar problems. As it turns out, they were right. After putting the word out, the CDC discovered that there had been no fewer than 16 cases of acute kidney failure caused by synthetic marijuana use nationwide.

All but one of the patients were men, and they all were between the ages of 15 and 33. More than a third of them were in Oregon, though they were spread out across the country in states ranging from Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas to Rhode Island and New York. After careful screening, none of the patients were discovered to suffer from a preexisting kidney condition and none were taking other medications which are known to interfere with the kidneys.

The Full Scope Of The Problem

Hospitalization for acute kidney failure is far from being the only recognized health consequence of synthetic marijuana abuse. Others have been reported to suffer from afflictions ranging from seizure to stroke and heart attack. The problem is widespread across the country, and it has been growing. In fact, it has increased from the point where there were fewer than 3,000 calls reported by the American Association of Poison Control Centers, while the number of calls associated with synthetic marijuana more than doubled in 2011. Further, a survey conducted for the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that synthetic marijuana is now the second most popular drug among high school seniors, with more than a tenth of them trying such drugs last year.

Synthetic cannabis is becoming popular thanks to several factors, including its relative affordability and the fact that it can often be found in gas stations and convenience stores. Further, it is typically more powerful than its naturally occurring counterpart, as well as being thought to enable the user to pass a urine test. No matter the perceived advantages, however, synthetic marijuana is if anything more dangerous than natural cannabis.



Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.