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New Study Shows Synthetic Marijuana Substances May Cause Acute Kidney Injury

New studies suggest that some legal “highs” can cause acute kidney injury – a life-threatening condition that can require emergency dialysis.
The latest observational research is being presented at the National Kidney Foundation’s 2015 Spring Clinical Meetings held this week in Dallas, TX, and adds to the growing body of evidence of adverse effects related to synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 or Spice.
“Use and abuse of these products have been tied to acute kidney injury in patients across the country,” said Kerry Willis, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer, National Kidney Foundation. “Despite being legal and marketed as safe, it appears these products are far from it.”
Synthetic marijuanas can be easily purchased online and at stores across the nation and are usually marketed as incense products, bath additives, and air fresheners. The substances are usually comprised of herbal plant material that has been sprayed with chemicals that mimic Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive constituent of natural marijuana.
“Common side effects in patients abusing these agents include rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, seizures, and hallucinations,” said Manuel Fernandez Palmer, MD, of Methodist Dallas Health Center. “Currently we do not know how these agents, either the herbs used or the chemicals sprayed, affect the different tissues of the body as scientific studies are lacking. Theories suggest that the compounds may have harmful heavy metal residues as these are known to affect different parts of the body, including the kidneys.”
Dr. Fernandez Palmer is presenting one of two papers at NKF’s Spring Clinical Meetings that describe patients who have used synthetic marijuana and have shortly thereafter developed acute kidney injury requiring emergency dialysis. Previous observational studies in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology have also described patients who developed acute kidney injury of unknown cause with the only linking factor being the use of synthetic marijuana.
“While there is no definitive proof that synthetic cannabinoids were the cause of the kidney injury, these observational studies strongly support that there is a correlation between the two,” Dr. Fernandez said. “Our work should help strengthen the case that these agents should be recognized by the medical community as a possible cause of reversible acute kidney injury, and that further testing should be made on the different effects that these substances produce on the body.”
The National Kidney Foundation is the leading organization in the U.S. dedicated to the awareness, prevention and treatment of kidney disease for hundreds of thousands of healthcare professionals, millions of patients and their families, and tens of millions of Americans at risk. For more information, visit www.kidney.org.

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