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The Interesting Lack of Info on How Synthetic Cannabinoids Are Made

How are synthetic cannabinoids made
Written by Sarah Friedman

We hear warnings all the time for these compounds, usually labeled ‘K2’ or ‘spice’, and how dangerous they are; despite a lack of actual deaths directly related to them. But the most interesting part of these warnings, is that they come with no information. If you want to know how synthetic cannabinoids are made, where, or by who, it’s as if the information doesn’t exist, even with our wide-ranging internet. What does this all mean?

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What are synthetic cannabinoids?

These days there are three types. Two get a bad rap, despite not being that bad, and one gets pushed directly at consumers. A real cannabinoid is something like THC, CBD, or CBN which is naturally made by the cannabis plant, and can be extracted in its natural form, without any change to the compound.

A synthetic cannabinoid is a cannabinoid that is made using processing techniques that either change the original molecule, or create a molecule by using component parts, and synthesizing them together with synthetic processes. Therefore, a synthetic cannabinoid is either a direct replica of a real cannabinoid, just made synthetically (like delta-8 THC), or it’s a compound that doesn’t exist in nature, and is simply closely-related to the natural cannabinoids – like delta-10 THC. Synthetic or not, some synthetic compounds mirror compounds found in nature, while some don’t exist in nature at all.

One of the big debates in this industry, is whether these compounds fit under the definition of hemp, a definition that doesn’t allow for synthetic processing of compounds. There are also issues of too-high THC amounts in preparations, as well as additive chemicals. The latter issue has shown to be the actual problem in cannabinoid-related deaths. Something even stated by a recent UK report, though this was about vapes specifically, not synthetic cannabis. As the two fear campaigns for vapes and synthetic cannabinoids are similar, its still interesting to note.

Cannabinoids can be natural or synthetic
Cannabinoids can be natural or synthetic

The 3 kinds of synthetic cannabinoids we deal with

What are the three types we deal with today? Technically they could all be lumped together, but essentially they make up three different industries. The first has to do with what’s referred to as the cannabinoid market. The biggest products in this market are delta-8 THC and HHC. Though the compounds are sold under the term ‘hemp-derived’, meaning they came from the hemp plant, this doesn’t mean they’re not synthetic.

As only CBD exists in high enough quantities for direct extraction from hemp (in amounts usable for product manufacturing), these compounds are not directly extracted, but made through processing from CBD. Or through some other process not made clear. Whether they are technically legal or not, they are openly sold all throughout the US in stores. How many direct deaths have they caused? None.

The second type is considered downright illegal cannabinoids, and they’re the main reference point when bringing up ‘synthetic cannabis’. These compounds are nicknamed ‘spice’ and ‘K2’, and the reality is that we don’t know much about them. It’s often said that the main chemical constituent is a compound called cannabicyclohexanol (aka (C8)-CP 47,497), or rather, a derivative of it called CP 47,497. The interesting thing about this compound, is that its related to HHC, which was actually discovered by the US government in an attempt to make a watered down version of THC.

We are constantly warned about these drugs. Sometimes we’re told they’re super strong and can therefore cause a bad reaction, sometimes we’re told they’re poisonous. But, are they? Usually, synthetic weed comes as broken up foliage with something sprayed on it. I, myself, once got very sick from fake weed, a story detailed here. But the reaction was so isolated (smoked it a million times, this happened only once), that blaming it on the compound that got me high, is silly. However, if I had died, it would’ve been blamed on the synthetic THC, no doubt.

Thing is, when a drug is sprayed on random foliage, the foliage could have anything on it from rat poison to insecticide; and breathing in chemicals of this nature, can be deadly. It seems no one died directly from the synthetic cannabinoids, but rather from other additives or chemicals used to make the product. The synthetic cannabinoids are directly related to THC, and as of yet, none of the researched cannabinoids – synthetic or not – have ever been associated with causing such problems. They might not have been taken up by the government, but the research around them never showed a deathly issue.

The last type of synthetic cannabinoid? The one sold directly to us. That involves approved pharmaceutical medications like dronabinol and nabilone. Yup, we’re told to fear cannabis synthetics, right alongside being told that if we buy them from a pharmaceutical company, somehow the danger disappears.  Pharmaceutical companies are not in the business of providing non-synthetic medications by default, because they can’t.

Synthetic cannabinoids
Synthetic cannabinoids

Their legal inability to patent a plant dictates that they must create synthetics if they want to use similar compounds. So automatically, these companies are making the same things as the cannabinoid market sells, yet we’re told its totally cool.

These, of course, aren’t any more or less dangerous than any of the other cannabinoid compounds, whether synthetic or not. But they do create a logical discrepancy. It’s not advertised to us that these medications are synthetics, but they are. Just as much as the compounds we’re constantly warned away from. Which means the government, even without legalizing cannabis for medical use, allows the sale of synthetic cannabinoid medicines, while telling the public that synthetic cannabinoids are dangerous.

Okay, so how are synthetic cannabinoids like K2 and spice made?

And this is where it really gets interesting. I want everyone reading this to open an internet browser page, and type in any of the following terms: “how is K2 made”, “how is spice cannabinoid made”, or “K2 recipe”. Seriously, go for it. You’ll find what I did. Tons of fear articles, tons of explanations of how its sprayed on foliage, and tons of stories of injury, sometimes without explaining the idea of additives and other chemicals involved, yet never explaining how exactly the cannabinoids caused the death either.

What you fundamentally won’t find, is how these synthetic cannabinoids are made, where they’re made, or by who. A search of Tic Tok videos turned up some videos of wetting paper in chemicals, which still doesn’t help us at all. And this paper by EMCDDA, which gives about the most detail possible in terms of the compounds, still falls short of explaining how they’re actually made, only giving a few thoughts on it. However, what it does do, is say nothing bad about these compounds, likening them for the most part, to THC. It doesn’t even have a section on danger.

If you’re thinking that this information is never provided for illicit drug markets, you’re wrong. Go back to the browser page. Now search these terms: “meth recipe”, “crack recipe”, and “fentanyl recipe”. You’re going to find plenty of information, even if you specifically don’t have the skills to make them. Sure, it can involve high level chemistry, but the point, is that the information is there. You can also find plenty of information about where these drugs are illegally made, and by who. So easy, that I was able to give a little overview here, in an article about making delta-8 THC, because even that has instructions online.

We have the internet, guys. Even if no step-by-step process is given for making fentanyl, you can gather so much information, that this can be gleaned by those who understand the science. The information is there. And meth? Meth actually kills about 19,447 people a year according to 2020 data.

How meth is made
How meth is made

And yet finding instructions for it…super easy. When it comes to how to make synthetic cannabinoids, where this is done, and with what methods, it’s like all of a sudden, an internet blackout. So we’re told of this danger repeatedly, yet given no backup information for what the stuff really is. To the point that it must be questioned if any of the information we’re given, is correct.

Maybe it’s made by the government and put out on the street. Maybe its fully known that approved or not, there’s no danger. Maybe it’s just used as a fear campaign to drive people toward pharmaceutical options which we’re told are safer, even though they’re essentially the same thing. Let’s not forget how many FDA approved medications consistently must be recalled due to safety issues. And this after passing safety trials, which doesn’t say much for our drug approval process, or the safety of what’s on the market.

If not one death has come directly from these compounds, and just from additives, or other chemicals involved, then any of these removed FDA medications, are way worse than spice or K2 could ever be. Its way easier to scare someone off something, if you control all the information about it. With not one word online about how the stuff is made, the only thing we have, are government fear campaigns telling us of addictions, poisonings, and lack of medical benefit.


How are synthetic cannabinoids made? Well, unlike drugs like meth and crack, the internet doesn’t have a recipe. Or information about who is making it. Or where. It’s kind of like there’s a story out that’s being pushed on us, but all real information is withheld.

I want to take a minute to say that I don’t love this industry. I doubt there’s a problem with any synthetic cannabinoid thus far. But I do understand the detriments of added chemicals, and for this reason, this industry can be dangerous. How dangerous? People have certainly died. However, on its very worst day, it’s not even in the same danger ballpark, realm, or universe, as opioids, meth, benzodiazepines, or cocaine. Two of these are highly prescribed, one is still legal medically, and one is completely illegal, but anyone can find instructions to make it. Just something to keep in mind.

Also, I’ve repeated over and over that no deaths have come directly from a cannabinoid compound, whether natural or synthetic. This is based on no articles being able to specify that the cannabinoid compound was responsible, with the majority actually mentioning the other chemicals involved that did the poisoning. This is highlighted by the CDC itself, which has a page on lung injury from vapes, where it admits that its an additive issue, and literally can’t say that injury came from either tobacco or cannabis directly.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.