Many people choose marijuana because it is seen as one of the most natural drugs available. Whether you are looking to smoke marijuana for recreational purposes or simply seeking an all-natural alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals, it offers one of the most natural treatment experiences achievable in the 21st century.
Considering that marijuana is loved by so many for its natural qualities, you might be surprised to learn that there is such a thing as synthetic marijuana. That’s right; it is possible to buy 100% synthetic marijuana, completely removing one of the drug’s major selling points.
Synthetic marijuana first entered the market back in the early 2000s and was originally created to provide a safer alternative to the real deal.
Synthetic marijuana has come a long way since then, and there are now thought to be over 150 different types of artificial marijuana available across the world.
Synthetic marijuana sounds great, and its ever-growing popularity would lead you to believe that it might just be the answer to your marijuana problems. However, the sad truth is that synthetic marijuana is now considered to be more dangerous than a lot of popular recreational drugs; and definitely more so than real marijuana.
So, what exactly is synthetic marijuana, and why should you be looking to avoid it? Let’s find out.
What Is Synthetic Marijuana?
Synthetic marijuana was not an entirely new concept. When it first flooded the market back in 2000, it had, in fact, been used for a few decades by this point within the medical profession. Forms of synthetic marijuana include Marinol, Epidiolex, and Sativex; the three most commonly used types of synthetic marijuana.
It was often given to patients as part of a blend of medications to treat a whole host of conditions, similar to the reasons that medical marijuana is used today. What changed in 2000 was that synthetic marijuana was suddenly being sold for recreational purposes.
At its core, synthetic marijuana is an artificial chemical which binds to the body’s cannabinoid receptors in the same way that THC found in cannabis plants does.
These chemicals are then sprayed onto herbs and other plant matter, giving the final product a similar appearance to real marijuana. Just like with regular, natural marijuana, this plant matter can be smoked and enjoyed in much the same way as the real deal.
Synthetic marijuana is often sold under a variety of different names in an attempt to make it sound more appealing; the most commonly used names include Bombay Blue, Chaos, and Green Giant. Since 2016, it has become possible to purchase synthetic marijuana in a concentrated liquid form, making it as accessible as CBD oils and vape liquids for those who prefer to avoid smoking.
One of the reasons that synthetic marijuana is so widely used is due to the fact that it does not fall within the same legal limits as marijuana. Synthetic marijuana as a substance is not actually illegal in the USA, meaning even in states where the use of recreational marijuana is still illegal, it is possible to achieve a similar high with the synthetic stuff.
However, the law is not quite so clear cut and, in many cases, synthetic marijuana is not legal to sell. What often makes it illegal are the chemicals used to produce it. The majority of synthetic marijuana manufacturers are based in Asia, where regulations are not quite as strict as Europe and the U.S. This often results in chemicals being used that are illegal in western countries, and which are thought to course a whole host of worrying health complications.
While the consumer will not find themselves facing a five-year prison sentence simply for smoking synthetic marijuana, those selling it can be prosecuted in much the same way they would be for selling other banned foods.
Just like real marijuana, synthetic marijuana works by activating your body’s CB1 and CB2 receptors, resulting in very similar, yet still different effects. Let’s take a closer look at the science behind synthetic marijuana and why its effects can be so dangerous.
The Science Behind Synthetic Marijuana
Synthetic marijuana is designed to replicate the effects of real marijuana; this is done by using artificial THC. One of the main differences between real and synthetic marijuana is that natural marijuana not only contains THC but also all of the other naturally occurring cannabinoids, including CBD.
You might be thinking this is not a problem. After all, you only want the psychoactive effects of marijuana and, since they come primarily from THC, all of the other cannabinoids simply get in the way.
This is, however, not the case, as CBD works to balance out the effects of THC and ensures that your body is able to process the THC in a manageable way. Without all of the other cannabinoids that are found in marijuana, the effects of THC can quickly become overwhelming.
The THC found in synthetic marijuana binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in much the same way as regular, natural marijuana. This stimulates the release of dopamine and is the cause of many of the effects associated with the feeling of being high. CB1 and CB2 receptors are also responsible for the way that our bodies manage pain and are why CBD is often recommended as a natural form of pain relief.
THC can have negative side effects, especially when taken in larger quantities, causing anxiety and paranoia. It can also alter your coordination and slightly reduce your fine motor skills, as well as causing you to feel dizzy. Everyone has a slightly different tolerance to THC, and for some people, all it takes is a small dose for the negative effects of taking hold.
While you might have plenty of experience with marijuana and believe your body to have a high THC tolerance, the lack of CBD and unpredictable amount of THC can take even the most experienced users by surprise.
The lack of regulations surrounding the manufacturing of synthetic marijuana often results in inconsistencies and varying quantities of artificial THC being sprayed onto each herb. This only adds to the unpredictable nature of synthetic marijuana as each dose can be drastically different.
As these different compounds break down, they can also activate CB1 receptors, which adds to the effects of the THC and results in dangerous side effects. In the most serious of cases, compounds found in synthetic marijuana can activate receptors that are not normally affected by THC or any of the compounds found in cannabis. When this happens, it can be extremely difficult to predict the effects that are felt.
The National Institute of Drug and Abuse have reported that synthetic marijuana can be up to 200 times stronger than natural marijuana – levels that the human body simply cannot cope with.
Why Is Using Synthetic Marijuana Dangerous?
While synthetic marijuana has been a concern among health care professionals since its rise in popularity back in the early 2000s, it only really came to the media’s attention in 2015. It hit the news after a group of men was taken to Montefiore Hospital for what was at first thought to be a drug-fueled party gone wrong.
While all of those admitted tested positive to having drugs in their system, their symptoms and their uncharacteristic psychosis did not quite match up. Further investigation discovered that the group had actually taken synthetic marijuana and that this had caused their severe reaction, resulting in multiple days spent in hospital and sedation being required.
As a result of unclear regulations, and in some cases a complete lack of regulations altogether, the effects of synthetic marijuana can be extremely unpredictable. The 2015 case is just one example among a long list of incidents that have resulted in hospitalization and even death.
Since 2015, there have been at least 20 deaths linked to the use of synthetic marijuana. Some of the most common side effects include severe anxiety, kidney damage, and, in the most serious of cases, life-altering strokes.
Many countries across the world are responding to the rise in synthetic marijuana, with moves towards making it completely illegal. In Finland, for example, synthetic marijuana is classified as a medical drug and therefore cannot be purchased.
New Zealand has gone one step further, with synthetic marijuana now being categorized as a Class C drug. It could result in either a 3-month prison sentence or a $500 fine.
The Main Problems with Synthetic Marijuana
Unpredictable Levels of THC
The lack of consistency when it comes to synthetic marijuana means that it can be extremely difficult to predict the effects that you will experience when taking synthetic marijuana. Even if you stick to one brand, there is no guarantee that you will experience the same effects every time.
This is, in part, the result of varying regulations governing what can be used during the manufacturing process of synthetic marijuana.
With natural marijuana, most long term users find a few strains that work best with their body and THC tolerance level and tend to stick to them when they need predictable effects. The lack of predictability with synthetic marijuana can be dangerous, with many people accidentally taking a much stronger dosage than they intend to.
Synthetic Marijuana Can Be Extremely Addictive
One of the main things that sets natural marijuana apart from most other recreational drugs is its lack of addictive properties. Studies have shown that synthetic marijuana does not share this trait with its natural counterpart and can actually be highly addictive. This fact is often hidden from the consumer, with many people only becoming aware of its addictive priorities once it is too late.
While those who use natural marijuana can easily stop without having to worry about horrible withdrawal effects, this is not the case for synthetic marijuana users.
The withdrawal effects experienced with synthetic marijuana are known not just to be unpleasant, but also potentially dangerous.
The most commonly experienced effects are an overwhelming sense of depression and, in the most severe of cases, even suicidal thoughts. People have also reported severe muscle pain, insomnia, and general flu-like symptoms that can last for weeks at a time. Going completely cold turkey can result in a loss of cognitive function, the effect of which can have a permanent effect on your health.
Synthetic marijuana is not a drug that you can simply stop taking, in order to allow your body to adjust you need to lower your dosage slowly. This can be extremely difficult given the unpredictability when it comes to the THC content of synthetic marijuana.
Lack of Other Cannabinoids
Synthetic marijuana only contains THC, and even this is synthetically made rather than extracted from cannabis plants. The lack of other naturally occurring cannabinoids means that the majority of the health benefits associated with cannabis is completely lost.
Another huge problem is that CBD, even in low levels, helps to balance out the effects of THC. This helps your body to process the THC and reduces the risk of negative effects being experienced.
While your body might be able to handle a strain with a 20% THC content, it is unlikely to be able to handle synthetic marijuana with a similar THC content due to the lack of other cannabinoids to offset the effects.
For those who are unaware of how cannabinoids work within the body and the exact contents of synthetic marijuana, this can be dangerous and often results in THC induced anxiety attacks.
Extreme Psychoactive Effects
Natural marijuana temporarily alters your mental state and can cause a wide range of psychoactive effects, including a change in the way you perceive your surroundings and your mood. Due to the intensity of synthetic marijuana and the lack of other cannabinoids, these effects are felt much more intensely.
This is thought to be what happened in the 2015 case involving the group of men at Montefiore Hospital. The high levels of synthetic THC are thought to have caused a severe reaction that changed their perception of the world around them and resulted in the violent behavior which led to a number of them having to be sedated for their own safety.
A lot of the positive psychoactive effects of marijuana appear to be lost when it comes to synthetic marijuana, which is possibly due to the lack of balance between the compounds entering your body. The human body’s inability to cope with synthetic marijuana commonly results in the less desirable effects of THC being much more noticeable. This can include sudden changes in mood, trouble sleeping, and a sense of disorientation.
Final Verdict About Synthetic Marijuana
While synthetic marijuana might sound like the perfect alternative to natural marijuana at first, the reality is that, due to its unpredictability, it can all too often result in a very different and potentially dangerous experience than what you would expect. The few benefits, issues of legality, and failing drug tests make it difficult to accept synthetic marijuana as being worth the risks.
While natural marijuana is thought to have an overall positive impact on your health, synthetic marijuana does the exact opposite and can actually have a long term effect on your mental and physical wellbeing. While the initial effects of marijuana and synthetic marijuana can appear the same, the way in which the body processes the two are very different.
With natural marijuana, the body turns it into non-psychoactive substances allowing it to be processed in much the same way other compounds within the body are. With synthetic marijuana, however, the body produces extra psychoactive metabolites which trigger cannabinoid receptors, causing a whole host of unwelcome effects.
With many countries looking to change the law surrounding synthetic marijuana or having already done so, combined with shifting recreational marijuana laws, it looks as though the popularity of synthetic marijuana could start to fall off. For many people, the risks are just too high for the limited rewards that it offers.