Use of Synthetic Cannabinoids in Patients with Psychotic Disorders: Case Series




Andreja Celofiga, Jure Koprivsek & Janez Klavz

Journal of Dual Diagnosis

Volume 10, Issue 3, 2014



An increasing number of synthetic cannabinoids have become available on the black market in recent years, and health professionals have seen a corresponding increase in use of these compounds among patients with psychiatric disorders. Unfortunately, there is almost no research available in the literature on this topic, and what little exists is based on case reports of individuals without psychiatric disorders. Synthetic cannabinoids are functionally similar to, but structurally different from, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the active principle in cannabis, and are problematic for many reasons. The psychotropic action of synthetic cannabinoids in patients with schizophrenia is unpredictable, with very diverse clinical presentations. These drugs can be much more potent than delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, they are readily available and difficult to detect. The gold standard for identification of synthetic cannabinoids is gas chromatography with mass spectrometry, but even this is difficult because new formulations of these designer drugs are constantly emerging. In this manuscript, we provide an overview and discussion of synthetic cannabinoids and present four cases of patients with synthetic cannabinoid intoxication who were hospitalized in our intensive psychiatric unit at the time of intoxication. All patients had a history of schizophrenia and had been hospitalized several times previously. While hospitalized, they smoked an unknown substance brought in by a visitor, which was then confirmed using gas chromatography with mass spectrometry to be the synthetic cannabinoid AM-2201. Our patients experienced predominantly psychiatric adverse clinical effects. We observed the appearance of new psychotic phenomena, without exacerbation of their previously known psychotic symptoms, as well as the occurrence or marked worsening of mood and anxiety symptoms. Despite several similar reactions, and even though they ingested the same exact substance, the clinical picture differed markedly between individual patients. We assume that the acute effects of synthetic cannabinoids in patients with schizophrenia would be different from those in persons without psychotic disorders. The reasons for this difference could be the actual symptomatology of the presenting disorder, the impact of psychopharmacotherapy, individual patient differences and probably many, as yet unknown, factors. The long-term consequences of synthetic cannabinoid use on preexisting psychotic disorders are unclear.






Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee