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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Emergency Physicians' Knowledge of Cannabinoid Designer Drugs


Introduction: The use of synthetic drugs of abuse in the United States has grown in the last few years, with little information available on how much physicians know about these drugs and how they are treating patients using them. The objective of this study was to assess emergency physician (EP) knowledge of synthetic cannabinoids (SC).

Methods: A self-administered internet-based survey of resident and attending EPs at a large urban emergency department (ED) was administered to assess familiarity with the terms Spice or K2 and basic knowledge of SC, and to describe some practice patterns when managing SC intoxication in the ED.

Results: Of the 83 physicians invited to participate, 73 (88%) completed surveys. The terms “Spice” and “K2” for SC were known to 25/73 (34%) and 36/73 (49%) of respondents. Knowledge of SC came most commonly (72%) from non-medical sources, with lay publications and the internet providing most respondents with information. Among those with previous knowledge of synthetic cannabinoids, 25% were not aware that SC are synthetic drugs, and 17% did not know they are chemically most similar to marijuana. Among all participants, 80% felt unprepared caring for a patient in the ED who had used synthetic cannabinoids.

Conclusion: Clinically active EPs are unfamiliar with synthetic cannabinoids. Even those who stated they had heard of synthetic cannabinoids answered poorly on basic knowledge questions. More education is needed among EPs of all ages and levels of training on synthetic cannabinoids. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):467–470.]

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