Get the facts on the misuse of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines and learn about synthetic cannabinoids such as synthetic marijuana, K2, or spice.
Other drugs, including over-the-counter (OTC) medications and synthetic drugs, are a growing concern.
Some OTC cough and cold medicines contain active ingredients that are psychoactive (mind-altering) when used at higher-than-recommended dosages. Dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant and expectorant found in many OTC cough and cold medicines, is why many are misused. It may produce euphoria and dissociative effects or even hallucinations when taken in quantities greater than the recommended therapeutic dose.
Data from SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports on the misuse of OTC cough and cold medications and showed:
- In 2006, about 3.1 million people aged 12 to 25 (5.3%) used an OTC cough and cold medication to get high (that is, “misused” the drug), and nearly 1 million (1.7%) had done so in the past year.
- Among youths aged 12 to 17, females were more likely than males to have misused OTC cough and cold medications in the past year, but among young adults aged 18 to 25, males were more likely than females to have misused these medications.
In addition to being illegal, synthetic cannabinoids are dangerous, addictive, and can cause life-threatening symptoms. Synthetic cannabinoids are chemicals made in a laboratory that are usually sprayed on dried, shredded plant material to be smoked, or vaporized and inhaled using e-cigarettes or other devices. These chemicals are designed to mimic delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive (mind-altering) ingredient in marijuana. But they can have negative health effects that are stronger and more unpredictable than the effects of marijuana.
Common names include: synthetic marijuana, K2, Spice, Joker, Black Mamba, Kush, and Kronic.
Learn more about synthetic cannabinoids. Use of synthetic cannabinoids can lead to severe and even life-threatening symptoms. Regular synthetic cannabinoid use can lead to addiction. Users trying to quit may experience headaches, anxiety, depression, and irritability.
Adverse Health Effects
A variety of health effects have been reported after synthetic cannabinoid use:
- Altered awareness of surroundings
- Delusional or disordered thinking
- Violent behavior
- Rapid heart rate
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hallucinations and psychotic episodes
- Suicidal thoughts
A Growing Problem
In a national report of a volunteer toxicology registry, the percentage of registry cases related to synthetic cannabinoids increased in all four U.S. Census regions from 2010 to 2015. The number of calls to U.S. Poison Control Centers related to synthetic cannabinoid exposure increased to a peak of 7,794 in 2015 compared to 2,668 in 2013. The estimated number of emergency department visits involving synthetic cannabinoids more than doubled from 2010 to 2011, increasing from 11,406 to 28,531.
If you or someone you know used synthetic cannabinoids and needs help, you can take the following steps:
- Call 911 for immediate medical attention if someone stops breathing, collapses, or has a seizure.
- Call the Poison Helpline at 1-800-222-1222.
- Call your personal doctor.
For additional questions, please use the following links, or contact your health department.