Synthetic cannabinoids have become increasingly popular over the past decade. These substances are sometimes known as ‘synthetic cannabis’ or ‘fake weed’ due to their similarities to natural marijuana. They go by names such as K2, Spice, Scooby Snax, and Mr. Happy.
Whatever the name, unlike marijuana, the effects of these synthetic cannabinoids are unpredictable and dangerous. They carry a high risk of side effects and are potentially contaminated with other harmful chemicals.
For example, between March and May 2018, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 164 cases of severe bleeding due to contaminated synthetic cannabinoids. Sadly, some of these cases resulted in death. The above is just the tip of the iceberg, as drugs such as K2/spice have been available for over a decade.
In 2010 alone, soon after synthetic cannabinoids became ‘mainstream,’ the number of ER visits attributed to these drugs exceeded 11,000. That number has increased significantly in the last decade.
In this article, we discuss all you need to know about synthetic cannabinoids like K2/Spice. We also explain why you should avoid them and choose natural cannabis instead.
What Are Synthetic Cannabinoids?
Synthetic cannabinoids are human-made chemicals that affect the body similarly to THC, the intoxicating compound in cannabis. They are part of a larger group of chemicals known as ‘new psychoactive substances’ (NPS).
It is believed that synthetic cannabinoids were invented by a scientist looking for ways to manipulate specific receptors in the body. According to one estimate, scientists created over 300 new chemicals designed to activate the cannabinoid receptors.
What Are Synthetic Cannabinoids Made from?
In their pure form, synthetic cannabinoids are oils or solids. They are added to plant material or dried herbs to create a mixture you can smoke. These substances typically resemble real marijuana.
Stores sometimes market synthetic cannabinoids as ‘herbal incense’ with labels stating that they are not for human consumption. However, potential users are generally well aware of the effects of these products. The feeble warning is nothing more than a case of manufacturers avoiding liability.
Synthetic cannabinoids may be labeled in different ways. They tend to be labeled “not for consumption”, but users may take them anyway.
These products tend to come in brightly colored or psychedelic packaging that attracts customers looking for an easy high. Furthermore, they are available in head shops, gas stations, novelty stores, and online.
This makes synthetic cannabinoids highly desirable and accessible. This is especially the case for younger consumers who may struggle to access cannabis. Indeed, Spice is the second most widely used illegal drug amongst high school students in the United States.
In some cases, you receive an amalgamation of random and harmful substances, with many cases of rat poison being identified in the mixtures!
How Do Synthetic Cannabinoids Work?
Synthetic cannabinoids work similarly to natural marijuana by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS plays a role in maintaining a state of balance inside the body, despite ever-changing external factors. It is involved in mood, movement, appetite, pain perception, immunity, and many other crucial functions.
The ECS carries out these functions using chemicals called endocannabinoids. These chemicals act on cannabinoid receptors, a process that helps elicit their various effects.
There are two primary types of cannabinoid receptors in the ECS: the CB1 and CB2 receptors. They exist in varying concentrations in different areas of the body and have very different effects. CB1 receptors are most widespread in the brain and nervous system, while CB2 receptors are more common elsewhere.
Coincidentally, the THC in cannabis has a similar molecular structure to our natural endocannabinoids. This allows it to bind with CB1 receptors in the brain to produce an intoxicating high. Although THC induces much more potent effects than our endocannabinoids, synthetic cannabinoids are stronger still.
While THC only binds partially with CB1 receptors, synthetic cannabinoids bind with them fully. This leads to fast and powerful effects, which are not always desirable.
Synthetic Cannabinoids List
There are many different brand names for synthetic cannabinoids. Two of the most famous are K2 and Spice. Indeed, they are inextricably linked to the point where they are called K2/Spice and treated as a single entity. The following products are often called synthetic marijuana:
- Black Mamba
- Bombay Blue
One of the reasons why there are so many varieties of synthetic cannabinoids is legality. Each time one of these intoxicating substances becomes illegal, its manufacturers change the chemical formula slightly and sell it under another name.
How Are Synthetic Cannabinoids Consumed?
Synthetic cannabinoids are usually dried and scattered over already shredded plant material. You can mix them with tobacco and roll the combination into a spliff. Alternatively, some people smoke the drug using a bong or pipe with no tobacco.
There are also liquid synthetic cannabinoids that work with a vaporizer device or e-cig. In rare cases, some users swallow synthetic cannabinoids with food or add them to a drink.
For individuals new to the cannabis industry, it is easy to make the mistake of thinking these synthetic drugs are genuine marijuana. Also, people gravitate towards synthetic cannabinoids because they are significantly cheaper than marijuana from a licensed dispensary.
Synthetic Cannabinoids Side Effects
Unfortunately, there is a very limited amount of relevant research into the side effects and dangers of these drugs on the human body.
However, it is important to understand that many of the initial effects can strongly resemble those of THC. This is often why so many people go back to the drug time after time – they don’t realize the potential dangers.
The list of the adverse health effects of synthetic cannabinoids include:
- Altered perception
- Suicidal thoughts
- Breathing difficulties
- Chest pain
Additionally, increasing numbers of people are being admitted to emergency rooms with the following issues following synthetic cannabinoid use:
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Violent behavior
- Kidney failure
Experts have linked the long-term use of synthetic cannabinoids with a litany of mental health problems, including psychosis and schizophrenia. There is also a genuine risk of addiction to these substances. Withdrawal symptoms include:
As outlined above, doctors link a growing number of deaths to synthetic cannabinoids like K2/Spice. Fortunately, there are much safer options when it comes to seeking a mind-altering experience.
Naturally produced marijuana contains real cannabinoids and is far safer once you buy from a reputable dispensary. Moreover, research indicates that an incredible 93% of people who tried both cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids prefer the real thing. The volunteers in the study reported more pleasurable sensations, greater functionality, and a longer-lasting high. They also suffered fewer adverse effects such as paranoia or ‘hangover’ symptoms.
The Harm Caused by Synthetic Cannabinoids
The effects of synthetic cannabinoids such as K2/Spice come on quickly and hit hard. Many users have stated how their experiences quickly turned from positive to negative, with one describing it as “brutal.” In some cases, synthetic cannabinoids can be up to 100 times more potent than THC.
K2 and Spice have been around since at least 2008. In the years following their release, an additional 500 synthetic drugs were created. This is because the ‘secret scientists’ continued to change ‘recipe’ to avoid drug scheduling.
Part of the reason why synthetic cannabinoids are so dangerous is that they are unpredictable. For one thing, the chemical composition can vary slightly from batch to batch. This might not sound significant, but even small changes can cause a dramatic difference in results. One doctor described taking such drugs as playing ‘Russian Roulette.’
Furthermore, many of these products contain contaminants in addition to synthetic cannabinoids. Some manufacturers reportedly add ingredients such as benzodiazepines and opioid derivatives to boost their product’s intoxicating effects.
What this means is that when you use synthetic cannabinoids, you never quite know what to expect. Therefore, it is essential to understand that these products have a long list of possible adverse effects.
They have also caused an unknown number of deaths, although the figure is likely significant. Apart from the episode in Illinois, over 100 people in New Haven, Connecticut, overdosed on K2 in two days in 2018. There were also overdose clusters in Brooklyn in 2018, Lancaster County in 2017, and Dallas in 2014.
Synthetic Cannabinoids: Final Thoughts
Whenever nature produces something amazing, humans will believe they can do a better job. This is not the case with synthetic cannabinoids.
They can cause a range of unpleasant side effects, seemingly coming out of nowhere as the high kicks in so fast. In some cases, synthetic cannabinoids can lead to potentially fatal side effects such as heart and kidney damage.
Although not everyone is lucky enough to have access to real marijuana, we recommend steering clear of synthetic cannabinoids at all costs. There are better ways to get high than risking your life with K2/Spice.
How Long Can Synthetic Cannabinoids be Detected in Urine?
Various factors determine how long a synthetic cannabinoid remains in your system. These include your metabolic rate, body mass, hydration levels, frequency of drug use, and much more. In general, synthetic cannabis is detectable in a urine test for up to 72 hours. However, the duration also varies according to how much of the drug you use in a single session.
Are There Any Legal Synthetic Cannabinoids?
No. When synthetic cannabinoids were first introduced, they contained substances not yet banned by federal drug laws. However, the DEA used emergency protocols in 2011 to schedule many of these substances. In 2012, President Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act, which placed many synthetic cannabinoids into Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
How Long Do Synthetic Cannabinoids Stay in Your System?
It depends on the type of drug test you submit to. Synthetic cannabinoids remain in a blood or saliva test for up to 48 hours. They can remain in hair follicles for up to three months. Yet this timeframe can vary significantly due to the aforementioned factors.
What Chemicals are in Synthetic Cannabinoids?
It depends on the drug in question. For example, ‘Spice’ typically contains benzoylindone, naphtoylindole, and phenylacetylindole, among other chemicals.
What Synthetic Cannabinoid is Known as K2?
K2 is one of the most popular synthetic cannabinoids, and it interacts with the same brain receptors as THC. However, its effects on the brain are more significant than cannabis. K2 can lead to improved mood, relaxation, and altered perception in the short term. However, side effects include hallucination, paranoia, and hallucinations.