With a name like synthetic cannabinoids, it sounds like something regulated and scientific. However, these mind-altering chemicals have the potential to be incredibly harmful. Otherwise known as “fake weed,” synthetic cannabinoids are considered a designer drug that some people may use as an alternative to regular, natural cannabis.
However, all that glitters is not gold – or green, in this case.
Synthetic cannabinoids can cause serious side-effects entirely different from those of cannabis.
They can be toxic, producing reactions such as vomiting, rapid heart rate, confusion and even hallucinations, which may require emergency medical treatment or admission to intensive care in some instances.
The health impacts of ingesting synthetic cannabinoids can range from unpredictable to harmful to even life-threatening.
This article will expand on synthetic cannabinoids, what they do, and how dangerous they can be.
We’ll learn all about how misleading marketing and manufacturing processes lead to untold levels of risks.
What are Synthetic Cannabinoids?
Synthetic cannabinoids are referred to by multiple names, including fake weed and synthetic marijuana. However, the basic premise of these designer drugs is the same.
Ultimately, the intention behind using synthetic cannabinoids is to mimic the effects of naturally-produced cannabinoids organically found in cannabis plants. However, instead of growing the plants and extracting the desirable compounds, these new synthetic cannabinoids are produced inside a laboratory.
Examples of synthetic cannabinoid products include K2, Spice, Black Mamba, Joker, Kush and Kronic. These synthetic cannabinoids have become widely accessible throughout the United States, but they come with real public health concerns.
All combined, there are likely hundreds of these new synthetic cannabinoid products on the market in the United States.
Unfortunately, it gets even worse.
Many synthetic cannabinoids and their associating products market themselves with snappy names, including legal bud, herbal smoke, herbal incense, herbal smoking blends and marijuana alternatives.
However, don’t let the phrasing confusing you. These are laboratory-made chemicals. There is nothing natural or holistic about these products.
They are far from safe. In fact, they can be life-threatening.
Technically, according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic cannabinoids fall under a class of drugs called new psychoactive substances – or NPS – and can be easily found in drug paraphernalia shops, gas stations, novelty stores, and even online.
Their prevalence and easy accessibility can fool consumers into believing they are safe and natural. While some of these synthetic cannabinoids fall under the controlled substances list, others are too new to have been included.
Originally, these fake weed products contained a compound called HU-210. This compound has a similar structure to the cannabinoid δ 9 tetrahydrocannabinol and eventually gained status as a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States.
HU-210 can be anywhere between 100 and 800 times more potent than natural THC from cannabis, and its effects last must longer, which led many fake weed producers to switch to new chemical drug compounds and what we now know as K2 Spice.
Another example of synthetic marijuana is JWH-018, although we know very little about this synthetic cannabinoid compound, its toxicity, or metabolites produced. Thus, further research is necessary to determine just how harmful it may be.
However, participants in a 2014 study published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology reported symptoms such as sickness, sedation, burning eyes, hot flushes, and deterioration of mood and perception after smoking a cigarette containing JWH-018.
In short, avoid using JWH-018 and HU-210 as if your life depends on it because it very well could. Your cannabinoid receptors will thank you.
According to the DEA, these synthetic cannabinoids are primarily manufactured in Asia without any quality control stands. They are then smuggled in bulk to the United States as misbranded imports. The final result is synthetic cannabinoids with no legitimate medical or industrial use.
What do They do?
Synthetic cannabinoid products are designed to produce similar effects as the naturally-occurring cannabinoids from the cannabis plant.
However, while they may contain the same psychoactive elements, synthetic cannabinoids can also produce adverse, sometimes even life-threatening health and drug abuse effects.
They interact with the endocannabinoid system and target the same receptors as naturally-occurring cannabinoids, such as THC, would, while focusing on mimicking the effects of δ 9 tetrahydrocannabinol.
However, they also produce more intense adverse health effects, such as:
- Respiratory difficulties
- Rapid heart rate
- Chest pain
- Muscle twitches
- Acute kidney injury and failure
- Suicidal ideation
- Cognitive impairment
- Increased blood pressure
The Impacts of Synthetic Cannabinoid Usage
Furthermore, the use of synthetic cannabinoids is associated with higher rates of toxicity and hospital admissions. People often show up to the hospital with symptoms, including irritability, hallucinations, confusion, and delusions.
There is not enough research to determine whether the synthetic cannabinoids themselves, potential contaminants, or other interactions produce these negative impacts.
Chronic or long term use of fake weed can produce serious mental health concerns, medical conditions, and possibly even death. In brief, we know about the widespread acute effects of synthetic cannabinoids, but we are only scratching the surface of the potential long term risks. That said, we know enough to advise against recreational use or to use synthetic cannabinoids for medicinal effects.
These are fake drugs better off being avoided. For example, these synthetic cannabinoids can produce severe unexplained bleeding, bruising, and even death.
Consumers who have tried these products reported sporadic and unpredictable effects. These rapidly developed impacts can be difficult to interpret and integrate for any participant, which leads to positive experiences turning into negative experiences very quickly.
Beyond that, these synthetic cannabinoids have been said to cause interpersonal suffering, including losing friends, hijacked personalities, and addiction.
The primary issue with synthetic cannabinoids concerns how potent and seemingly unbalanced these fake weed products can be.
The high produced by the use of synthetic cannabinoids tends to have a more intense onset and earlier offsetting of effects. Some people describe the experience as like being hit by a hammer, with intense effects that do fade rather quickly.
Any cannabis consumer reading this likely knows that it is better to have a long smooth high versus a jagged up and down journey. It is not uncommon for a bad synthetic cannabinoid trip to end up in the emergency room with a bad mental health episode.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported multiple events where death and severe unexplained bleeding occurred from the use of synthetic cannabinoids. The CDC encourages Americans to call 911 if they have any serious reactions to synthetic cannabinoids.
Better yet, they suggest avoiding ‘herbal incense’ altogether and throwing out any synthetic marijuana you may already possess.
Further Concerns and Considerations
Beyond these known health effects, there are numerous other potential impacts from other unlabelled ingredients in synthetic cannabinoids. Keep in mind that most of these fake weed products in the United States do not provide labels.
In this way, who knows for sure what else producers may be adding to make these rough synthetic products more palatable?
All we do know is that they do not include any natural plant material present in the cannabis plant and that these herbal blends are nothing more than lab-made drugs.
What makes the situation even worse is the fact that many at-risk individuals may gravitate toward these synthetic cannabinoids, which can put people in already severe circumstances into even harder ones.
The same researchers who made this point also found that individuals using synthetic marijuana scored worse on cognitive tasks and enhanced symptoms compared to those using natural cannabis or no cannabis at all. The implications of this are that synthetic cannabinoids produce more impairment that may persist beyond the time spent high.
However, we do not know how the impacts of synthetic cannabinoids on cannabinoid receptors leads to this result.
Sellers of these synthetic cannabinoids claim that they will not show up in your urine during a drug test. Generally speaking, most routine drug screening tests do not detect many, if any, of the compounds.
That said if you need to undergo drug testing, be extra cautious around claims made by synthetic marijuana products. You also have to ask yourself if it’s ultimately worth the risk.
We do not know much about the withdrawal symptoms that occur when one stops consuming fake weed. While weed has some well-known but overall minor withdrawal symptoms, these synthetic marijuana products likely have far worse impacts.
How to Recognize Synthetic Cannabinoids
It can be tough to tell the difference between natural cannabis products and fake weed copies. The marketing tactics for these products cash in on this uncertainty by using careful wording on labels to facilitate this confusion further in the hopes that you buy synthetic marijuana over the natural stuff.
These synthetic cannabinoid products come in dried bud form, vaporizers, infused-teas and other forms similar to recognizable cannabis products. As you can probably already guess, this makes it tricky to tell the difference.
If you see these products in a gas station or convenience store, you can almost guarantee they are fake weed.
Fake weed can come in various colours, including green, brown, red, or blonde. You’ll likely find them in small packages that are 2-inches by 3-inches in size.
Our advice is to watch out for colourful foil packs, and don’t forget about the marketing terms that were mentioned earlier that are frequently used to describe these synthetic products.
Researchers from Forensic Science International used mass spectrometry to identify the various ingredients found in synthetic cannabinoids. What they found was shocking.
While many different types of synthetic cannabinoids had slight differences in their chemical makeup, some were found to contain other drugs, including methamphetamine, heroin, Δ9THC, and ketamine.
Ultimately, if you see one of these products using the marketing terminology we previously mentioned or see these products being sold outside of a government regulated, reliable dispensary, avoid them altogether.
Synthetic Cannabinoids – Untested, Unregulated and Unsafe
By now, you should have plenty of reasons to avoid synthetic cannabinoids and instead stick with natural cannabis plant material. Compared to other drug and alcohol products, synthetic cannabinoids carry an assortment of intense risks and horrible side effects.
While you may be wanting to pass a drug test while still getting high, you are risking your health and maybe even your life with these products.
When looking to enjoy the copious recreational and medical benefits that cannabinoids have to offer, it is always best to opt for the real deal, naturally-occurring cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
Of course, it is always best practice to ensure that you know exactly where your products are coming from, a government-recognized, certified, and reputable dispensary, to ensure that they are of the highest quality and safe to consume. Something that synthetic cannabinoids can’t offer.
As always, stay safe.