Synthetic Cannabis: All you need to know

by Vivien Mah    

Synthetic Cannabis: All you need to know

Synthetic cannabis classified as a New Psychoactive Substance (NPS)- a group of substances that were originally created to recreate a "legal high from common, illicit drugs, such as cocaine, MDMA, cannabis, etc. Moreover, some of the newer synthetic cannabis NPS' claim to mimic the effects of THC (the active ingredient in cannabis), but in reality, they do not. 

This blogpost will discuss the risks involved with the usage of the drug, and the main side effects which stem from the usage of the drug.

Why is using synthetic marijuana risky?
Synthetic marijuana is intended to replicate the effects, and even the look and feel of marijuana. The dried leaves and stems within the packet have the possibility to have come from psychoactive plants, but more often than not, they are inert- usually stemming from a variety of plants. Some of these plants however, are contaminated with heavy metals, pesticides, mold or salmonella.

However it must be known that synthetic cannabinoids are not natural. They are produced overseas and then shipped in bulk to the the country which is selling it- there they are dissolved and then mixed with dried vegetation, which then absorbs the liquid. This process is very imprecise, so the dosage in one packet may greatly differ from batch to batch.

There are several hundred synthetic cannabinoids in existence, and they all stimulate cannabinoid type 1 receptors (CB1), just like the active component in natural marijuana, THC, that provides the high. More problems arise because some synthetic cannabinoids stimulate non-cannabinoid receptors, which can cause unanticipated effects as well. There is no way to know which synthetic cannabinoids are actually in the product you purchased.

Many chemists producing synthetic cannabinoids in the lab use the three hexagonal rings as the scaffold to generate new molecules that produce a similar high. Natural marijuana does not comprise only of THC- other constituents in natural marijuana such as cannabidiol actually help to temper the negative impact of THC but are absent in synthetic cannabinoids. In addition to these myriad risks, there is also a risk that synthetic cannabinoids can be adulterated with other chemicals, ranging from opioids to rat poison.

Synthetic cannabinoids were initially designed by legitimate researchers who were looking to explore the function and structure of cannabinoid receptors- unlike what they are being use for today.

What are the consequences of using these drugs?
In addition to giving the user a high, the primary psychological and neurological effects of synthetic cannabinoid use include anxiety, agitation and paranoia, although psychosis and seizures have also occurred. The anxiety and psychosis can cause the heart to beat fast and even trigger heart attacks or strokes when the body’s adrenaline gets flowing. Many people suffer upset stomach with synthetic cannabinoids, and vomiting is also common (which is paradoxical, since medical marijuana is used to prevent vomiting). Finally, there is a risk that synthetic cannabinoids can damage both the muscles and kidneys.

Rarely, people reported having trouble breathing, but in some cases this is due to adrenaline release. In other cases, the butane that was used to extract THC from marijuana before laboratory alteration was not removed. The butane ignites during smoking and damages the lungs. Early detection and aggressive treatment for all of these adverse events can help to prevent severe adverse events or death.

Are synthetic cannabinoids addictive? 
Yes, as with most other substances, a user will have a risk of becoming addicted to them. Regular users trying to quit may have the following withdrawal symptoms: headaches, anxiety, depression, and irritability.

Medication, as well as therapy have not specifically been tested for treatment of addiction to these specific products. Health care providers should screen patients for possible co-occurring mental health conditions.

Can you overdose on synthetic cannabinoids?
It is very much possible. Overdosing occurs when one uses too much of a drug, which then results in a dangerous reaction such as harmful symptoms or even death. Usage of synthetic cannabinoids have resulted in toxic reactions, reduced blood supply to the heart, seizures, kidney damage, and elevated blood pressure. 

If suspect a loved one using synthetic cannabinoids, and would like to perform a test, do have a look at our DrugSense range of drug testing kits.



- ADF, "Synthetic cannabis – a short guide for AOD workers"

- ADF, "What is synthetic cannabis?"

- ADF, "What is cannabis?"

- ADF, "New Psychoactive Substances"

- The Journal of Clinical Psychology, "The Pharmacologic and Clinical Effects of Illicit Synthetic Cannabinoids"

- National Institute of Drug Abuse, "What are synthetic cannabinoids?"

- National Institute of Health, "Adverse Effects of Synthetic Cannabinoids: Management of Acute Toxicity and Withdrawal"

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for general reference only. Please seek advice from professionals according to your needs.