What is Synthetic Cannabis?

Synthetic marijuana first appeared in Europe in 2004 and in the U.S. in 2008. Chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana, however, were created for experimental purposes decades ago. At first, people believed Spice was simply a mixture of harmless herbs that had a similar effect to marijuana, so it was legally sold all over the world, especially via the internet. It was attractively packaged in small colorful sachets, and generally marketed as a herbal smoking tobacco substitute, or as incense. The packaging had a kind of 60’s, summer of love, retro feel, which gave it an aura of harmlessness. There are more than a hundred different varieties of synthetic “marijuana” that have been created so far. Because the chemical content is constantly changing, buyers never know what effects the drugs will have on the body. Even the prescription drug, phenazapam, has been found in some products.

Natural marijuana gains its mind-altering effects from a chemical known as THC. Synthetic marijuana, on the other hand, is coated with synthetic cannabinoids – a family of over 700 research chemicals. In other words, synthetic marijuana is completely different than natural marijuana.

Not to be confused with legal synthetic THC like Marinol, this marijuana doppelganger is anything but FDA approved. Synthetic cannabis hides under many monikers like K2 and Spice, as well as a label which reads “Not for human consumption.” Synthetic drugs such as Spice and K2 are often falsely advertised as “safe,” “natural” and “legal” highs. The truth is that they are technically not legal and are definitely not natural or safe.

A synthetic cannabinoid is not a cannabis product, but a chemical analog that binds to the same system of receptors. THC, the primary psychoactive chemical in herbal cannabis, latches to CB1 receptors in the brain to produce a euphoric high, and synthetic cannabinoids also bind here, but with a much higher affinity. Synthetic cannabinoids can be 2-100 times more potent than THC and induce severe side effects like vomiting, chest pain, increased heart rate, vision blackouts, headaches, kidney damage, agitation, high blood pressure, and psychosis.

Synthetic cannabinoids are typically shipped overseas from China to manufacturers who prepare the blends using high-proof alcohol or acetone solvents. It’s basically a reverse-extraction: the synthetic molecules are dissolved in a solvent and introduced to its plantlike host material through a soaking or spraying process. Much can go wrong in the production process. A poorly mixed solution or an uneven spray job can result in chemical “hot spots,” or dangerously potent areas of the batch.


Effects on the Mind:

Loss of consciousness
Altered time sense
Extreme anxiety
Panic attacks
Severe paranoia
Potential suicide
Some users under the influence of synthetic marijuana have been involved in homicides

Effects on the Body:

Nausea and vomiting
Heavy sweating
Uncontrolled/spastic body movements
Acute kidney injury
Rapid heart rate
High blood pressure
Reduced blood supply to the heart
Heart attack


The long-term effects on humans are not fully known, but poison center experts report that effects of synthetic marijuana can be life-threatening.
It can be addictive and lead to withdrawal symptoms which include craving, nightmares, heavy sweating, nausea, tremors, headaches, extreme tiredness, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, problems thinking clearly and neglect of other interests or duties.
After repeated and long-term use of the drug, users can experience forgetfulness and confusion. Some users have reported experiencing paralysis.
The Wyoming Department of Health found 16 cases of kidney injury following use of the drug in six U.S. states.

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Is Synthetic Marijuana Addictive?

The short answer is, YES. Absolutely. It’s nothing like real marijuana, in this way. Some claim that ending an addiction to Spice or K2 can be as difficult as quitting crack cocaine or heroin. Withdrawing from spice is extremely uncomfortable. Common withdrawal symptoms include extreme vomiting and diarrhea, inability to eat or drink, inability to focus, fatigue and extreme insomnia.
Serious health issues reported include extreme dehydration, heart palpitations, renal failure and death.

The real problem with fake weed is that it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s sold with a nice, natural image, promising the user harmless herbs and a natural high. In fact, spice is an unpredictable, untested synthetic chemical that offers no labeling to see what you’re actually using, and the effects of use can be devastatingly harmful to many.

So why are people turning to it?

Simple. People typically choose synthetic cannabis over real cannabis for the following reasons:

  • Cannabis is illegal in their state
  • Synthetic cannabinoids (or SCs/syncanns) don’t turn up on a urine analysis

Unfortunately, these short-sighted “advantages” aren’t worth the risk of death or serious side effects that can compromise your health.

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