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The Dangers of Synthetic Cannabinoids

synthetic cannabinoids
Written by Alexandra Hicks

These days, parents have a lot to worry about when it comes to their teens. Drugs, alcohol, car accidents, you name it. Add to the list synthetic cannabis, which is becoming a growing concern.

It’s known by names like K2, spice, and nitro, and it’s readily available for kids to purchase from a variety of stores. Some of these synthetic cannabinoids are classified the same as heroin and crack cocaine, whereas others are legally sold as “herbal incense” or “potpourri”. Often times, teens who don’t have access to real cannabis or people who know they will be drug tested, use these fake herbs to get high, although the effects are not even close to what you would feel from smoking real cannabis.

Many Synthetic Cannabinoids are Legal, Technically

Originally, these chemical compounds were created in laboratories as a way to help scientists study the cannabinoid system. According to the DEA (United States Drug Enforcement Agency), they are largely produced in Asia, with no standards or regulations, then they are smuggled into the U.S. where they are mixed with “plant material”, packaged and sold in tobacco shops, convenience stores, and other small businesses similar in nature.

synthetic cannabinoids
A bag of “spice”, a popular brand of synthetic cannabiniods

Many of these fake cannabinoids started off being completely legal, but as of 2015, the DEA has listed a few different types that are now Schedule I controlled substances, with others having temporary scheduling orders. However, there are hundreds of these synthetic cannabinoids and the DEA as noted at least 75 that they know of but are currently not under their control.

The Chemicals in Synthetic Cannabis

Originally, many of the fake cannabis products contained a chemical called HU-210, which is very to similar to THC in molecular structure. Now HU-210 is listed as a Schedule I controlled substance in the U.S., so products containing this agonist are only sold throughout Europe.

New synthetic compounds have been created, some are similar to THC, others are not, and the list is too long to keep up with, meaning many are not listed as controlled substances. This allows manufactures to continue legally selling their products in the United States, even if one of their main compounds eventually becomes illegal.

Immediate Effects

Although research is advancing in this area, due the to constantly changing nature of the synthetic cannabinoid industry the exact effects on the human body remain a mystery. Some studies have determined a link between synthetic cannabinoids and heart attacks and strokes. In what was a more surprising discovery, research also shows that these synthetic cannabinoids can cause acute kidney injury leading to hospitalization and dialysis.

Other studies have looked at the level of impairment and compared it to regular cannabis. With the synthetics, there was a significant increase in disorientation, confusion, and incoherence. Even users themselves will readily admit that synthetic cannabinoids get them way higher than real buds, and that the two feel nothing alike.

Long-Term Effects

Unfortunately, long term effects are just unknown at this point. Synthetic cannabinoids have not been on the market long enough to determine what kind of damage they could do after decades of use. Of course, if you have a stroke, heart attack, or kidney problems, you could end up with long term damage because of those conditions alone. Plus, smoking low quality plant material laced with dangerous chemicals will undoubtedly have some kind of effects on the lungs, throat, and mouth. Beyond that, only time will tell the full extent of the damage these synthetic cannabinoids can cause.

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About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Managing editor at Cannadelics and U.S based journalist, helping spread the word about the many benefits of using cannabis and psychedelics.