The term moon rocks is used by drug abusers to refer to two different types of drugs that are loosely related.
First, moon rocks refers to a potent strain of cannabis (marijuana) called girl scout cookies by many users. This strain of marijuana is dipped in hash oil and then sprinkled with the resins of cannabis plants (referred to as kief) in order to increase the potency of the marijuana. This form of moon rocks is known to have a very high level of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the major psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
Second, according to professional sources like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the term moon rocks is also used to refer to several different types of synthetic cannabinoids that are produced in laboratories overseas and sprayed on plant material. These synthetic cannabinoids are marketed in the United States as legal or “safe” alternatives to marijuana. Synthetic cannabinoids do not necessarily chemically resemble THC, and they are not actually synthetic forms of THC, but they do attach to the same receptors in the brain that THC attaches to (the cannabinoid receptors).
The prevailing view among many individuals who support the use of marijuana for medicinal or even recreational purposes is that marijuana products are harmless. Whether or not cannabis products should be legalized for medicinal and/or for recreational use is not relevant to the large body of research that indicates that the chronic use of cannabis products does carry certain risks. Whether or not these risks are more severe or less severe than the risks associated with using legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco is not relevant to the point that the use of marijuana does involve some specific risks.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) list and discuss the risks associated with cannabis products that are based on empirically validated research studies that have been replicated. In addition, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) lists the formal criteria for a cannabis use disorder, which is a substance use disorder (a term encompassing both the notions of substance abuse and addiction) that can occur with the misuse of cannabis products. Moreover, APA lists formal diagnostic criteria for withdrawal from cannabis that are based on research studies and clinical observations.
Thus, it is clear that despite numerous claims that marijuana is harmless, there are some risks associated with its use, and the risks would be compounded by using products that have higher concentrations of THC. A quick review of some of the risks associated with the chronic use of marijuana, such as moon rocks, as reported by APA, NIDA, and ASAM will help to elucidate this point.
- Addiction potential: Despite claims that marijuana is “not addictive,” it can be. As mentioned above, there are diagnostic criteria for cannabis use disorder, and these criteria include the development of physical dependence on cannabis products like moon rocks. There are also diagnostic criteria for withdrawal from cannabis products. Therefore, there is a risk of developing an addiction with the use of these products. Using products with high concentrations of THC could exacerbate potential addiction. The withdrawal syndrome associated with an individual who chronically used very potent cannabis products would be more severe.
- Brain damage: There is clear research that children and adolescents who use cannabis products run the risk of significant damage to their brains. The research has indicated that people who begin using marijuana or other cannabis products at an early age suffer damage to the white matter in the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system). This white matter is referred to as myelin and facilitates the signaling between the nerves in the brain and spinal cord (neurons). Our brains do not fully mature until we are adults (at least in our early 20s), and cannabis use appears to interfere with the development of myelin in immature brains.When individuals suffer damage to the white matter tracts in their brain and the neurons cannot communicate with each other effectively, there can be numerous ramifications associated with this condition. Individuals will often have problems with movement, cognition, and other neurological issues. At the time of this writing, there is no known way to reverse damage to the myelin that occurs early in an individual’s development. The research has also indicated that there may be a relationship between cognitive issues and cannabis use in adults. Obviously, use of products that have higher concentrations of THC could increase this risk.
- Co-occurring psychiatric issues: Cannabis use is associated with a greater risk to develop mental health disorders over all age groups, but particularly in younger individuals. The research is unable to demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship, such that using cannabis leads to the development of a psychological disorder; however, the relationship is reliable. Certainly, the use of cannabis could exacerbate certain types of psychological disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), psychosis (having the experience of hallucinations or delusions), eating disorders, etc.
- Lower levels of achievement: Chronic users of cannabis products demonstrate lower levels of achievement than individuals who do not use products like moon rocks. Studies have also indicated that the use of cannabis as a child or teenager is strongly associated with lower levels of achievement, poorer grades, higher rates of unemployment, lower social economic status, and higher morbidity as an adult compared to individuals who did not use cannabis products.
- Greater potential to develop some other substance abuse issue: Research has indicated that the use of cannabis is associated with a higher risk to be diagnosed with some other substance use disorder. Substance abuse issues that are most often diagnosed along with a cannabis use disorder include an alcohol use disorder and/or a tobacco use disorder; however, there is a greater risk to develop nearly any type of substance use disorder. It would be suspected that using more potent forms of cannabis would result in stronger relationships between different substance use disorders.
- Respiratory issues: There is a body of research that suggests that regularly smoking cannabis products is associated with the development of respiratory issues, such as emphysema. At the time of this writing, there is no significant research that supports the notion that there is a relationship between smoking marijuana and the development of lung cancer.
- Developmental issues: There is research that indicates that pregnant women who use cannabis put their children at risk to develop neurological problems and developmental disorders such as ADHD, learning disabilities, etc.
- Overdose potential: Yes, one can overdose on THC. Overdose effects from THC are typically not fatal in adults, but there are cases where children suffered fatalities due to ingesting cannabis products with very high levels of THC.
It is important to remember that there is research to suggest that cannabis does have some important medical uses, and supporters of legalization will emphasize these positive uses. However, the medicinal use of marijuana should be performed under the supervision of a physician who understands how to apply the drug effectively and the risks associated with its use. No substance is a silver bullet, and all medications have potential side effects and detrimental effects. When medications are abused, the risk to experience these untoward effects is increased.
Why Using Synthetic Cannabinoids Is Never a Good Idea
While there are potential medicinal uses for cannabis products, the use of synthetic cannabinoids represents a different situation. There are many reasons why individuals should not use synthetic cannabinoids labeled as moon rocks or any other form of synthetic cannabinoid.
- Users often don’t know what they are taking. Because many synthetic cannabinoids are produced overseas and without any type of governmental regulation or supervision, users often have no idea what they are taking. There have been fatalities associated with synthetic cannabinoids that contained toxic substances.
- Their use is associated with psychosis. There are numerous reports of individuals using synthetic cannabinoids and then developing hallucinations, delusions, and even seizures. Obviously, this can result in a dangerous situation.
- Individuals who use these products may become delirious and aggressive. NIDA reports numerous cases of individuals becoming confused, disoriented, and even aggressive and hostile after using these products.
- Their use can result in severe cardiac issues. The effects of synthetic cannabinoids include increased blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, and an increased potential for stroke or heart attack.
- Chronic use may result in physical dependence. There is a documented syndrome of physical dependence associated with the chronic use of synthetic cannabinoids.
- Self-harm or potential suicidality is possible. Individuals using these drugs run the risk of harming themselves due to being confused (delirious), psychotic, or even suicidal. In some cases, individuals are under the delusion that they are invulnerable or invincible, and this can lead to a person taking serious risks.
Finally, there are no medicinal uses for synthetic cannabinoids.
Symptoms of Abuse
The diagnosis of a substance use disorder encompasses the older notions of both abuse and addiction. People who have substance use disorders related to the use of moon rocks will display a formal set of behavior or symptoms. These include issues with:
- Control: Users will have problems controlling their use of the substance. Some of the issues with control include:
- Frequently using the drug more often, in greater amounts, or for longer periods of time than the person had originally intended
- Continuing to use the drug even though the person is aware it is causing them problems in their relationships, at work, with their health, with their emotional functioning, and in other areas
- Frequently using the substance in situations where it is dangerous to use it
- Frequently attempting to stop or cut down use of the drug but being unsuccessful
- Using the drug to cope with everyday stressors
- Giving up important activities in order to engage in drug use
- Failing to meet important obligations as a result of drug use
- Cravings: Frequent cravings to use one’s drug of choice is considered to be a sign of a substance use disorder.
- Distress: Experiencing significant distress associated with one’s use of moon rocks is a telltale sign.
- Dysfunction: Experiencing significant dysfunction in important areas of life as a result of one’s drug use is another telltale sign.
- Dependence: Developing symptoms of physical dependence on the drug while not using it for prescribed purposes is a sign of a substance use disorder. According to APA and ASAM, the symptoms of withdrawal from cannabis products include:
- Significant irritability, aggression, or anger
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Problems with sleep that can include insomnia or having nightmares
- A decrease in appetite or significant weight loss
- At least one physical symptom that can include tremors or shakiness, sweating, chills, fever, headache, or significant abdominal pain
The formal diagnosis of cannabis withdrawal would require that the person had symptoms from at least three of the above groups and the symptoms developed within a week of discontinuing cannabis. Research studies investigating physical dependence associated with the use of synthetic cannabinoids suggests a similar array of symptoms, but these may be more intense. In addition, individuals may experience psychosis, paranoia, and even potential seizures during withdrawal from some synthetic cannabinoids.
The treatment for a substance use disorder, despite the type of moon rocks being abused, will adhere to a specific overall plan or approach that is based on empirical evidence. This plan will be adjusted to meet the needs of the person being treated. The treatment protocol would most likely include an initial period of withdrawal management (medical detox) under the supervision of a physician. Even though withdrawal from cannabis is not considered to be serious or potentially fatal, some individuals may experience severe symptoms that can lead them to relapse. There may be potential serious issues associated with withdrawal from synthetic cannabinoids, such as the development of seizures.
Someone undergoing withdrawal from synthetic cannabinoids who is suspected to be at risk for the development of seizures may be administered benzodiazepines on a tapering schedule. The development of seizures represents a potentially fatal issue and needs to be controlled.
Withdrawal from cannabis can be managed with medications that address the specific symptoms being displayed.
People in recovery from abuse of either of the drugs labeled as moon rocks require involvement in substance use disorder therapy as the main approach to their recovery. Medical management of issues would continue, including medical management of any co-occurring mental health issues.
Getting individuals to become involved in peer support groups, such as 12-Step groups, can be beneficial, and these groups will often be a long-term treatment activity for many individuals. Therapy is typically time-limited, and most often, it is discontinued within a year or two following abstinence, whereas individuals can continue to participate in peer support groups indefinitely. Thus, these groups provide useful interventions and strong support for long-term recovery. Other interventions may also be used depending on the needs of the individual.
There is a very strong relationship between the length of time a person remains involved in treatment and the success of their recovery program. People involved in treatment for longer periods of time have overall higher success rates, even if they have a few stumbles (e.g., relapses) along the way. Continued vigilance and participation in some form of treatment-related activity, such as a peer support group, for many years following discontinuation of the drug is crucial to long-term success in recovery.