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Add kidney failure to the list of potential illnesses caused by smoking synthetic cannabis, known by the names "spice" and "K2," among others.
The Centers for Disease Control said Thursday that 16 people in six states developed acute kidney injury in 2012 after using the drug. All were hospitalized and five required dialysis.
The patients, all between ages 15 and 33, recovered. But CDC researchers described the kidney damage — a previously unknown health consequence of using spice — as a harbinger of other synthetic pot-related illnesses.
"Given the rapidity with which new [synthetic cannabinoid] compounds enter the marketplace and their increasing use in the past three years, outbreaks of unexpected toxicity associated with their use are likely to increase," the authors noted.
Inhaling synthetic pot results in feelings of euphoria, relaxation and calmness, but the chemicals that cause these effects also are known to cause high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, hallucinations and seizures.
The military has moved swiftly to halt its use among troops. The Pentagon banned it in 2010 and several services have started testing for it.
The Navy announced in January it will begin randomly conducting unit sweeps for use and test sailors suspected of using it.
The Drug Enforcement Administration in 2011 classified some of the chemicals used in manufacturing synthetic pot as Schedule I, or illicit, substances.
Synthetic pot is banned in 38 states but is easily purchased online and in some convenience stores, which often keep it behind the counter.