Synthetic cannabis: more dangerous than you thought

It goes by many nicknames and often carries a ‘not for human consumption’ on the label:

  • K2
  • Spice
  • Chronic spice
  • Spice Gold
  • synthetic cannabisAroma
  • Mr. Smiley
  • Spice silver
  • K3
  • K3 legal
  • Genie
  • Sence
  • Earth impact
  • Space truckin
  • Moon rocks
  • Mr. Nice Guy
  • Zohai
  • Eclipse
  • Black Mamba
  • Red X Dawn
  • Blaze
  • Dream
…and until fairly recently (February of 2012), it was available at most convenience stores and gas stations.
According to Joanna Cohen, ER doctor at Children’s National Medical Center, synthetic marijuana use is on the rise, particularly among young adults as hospitals and poison control centers are seeing increased cases of synthetic pot intoxication. When discussing the inherent dangers associated with synthetic cannabis use, Cohen (via Forbes) explains:

Synthetic pot uses a botanical blend as its base: “bay bean, blue lotus, lion’s tail, lousewort, Indian warrior, dwarf skullcap, maconhabrava, pink lotus, marshmallow, red clover, rose, Siberian Motherwort, vanilla, and honey.”  These plant ingredients aren’t bad in and of themselves. The problem comes in when the botanicals are sprayed with an active compound like JWH-018, which is what makes the synthetic drug toxic. The name JWH-018 comes from the scientist John W. Huffman, who synthesized versions of TCH to study its effects in the lab.

One of the reasons that synthetic pot can produce a greater affect is that its ability to bond the brain’s cannabis receptor (CB1) is five times greater than what THC is capable of. This means a bigger bang for the buck – and greater risk of serious, long-lasting neurological problems [source].

Side Effects Associated with Synthetic Cannabis Use

Side effects may vary but tend to include any of the following symptoms:
  • jointAggressiveness
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Syncope
  • Acute renal failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Heavy sweating
  • Heart palpitations
  • Irritability
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Convulsions

What makes synthetic cannabis so appealing in the first place?

Part of the appeal of synthetic cannabis is the euphoric as well as psychoactive effects on the drug user. It is similar to that of marijuana with the exception that you can get high faster. Additionally, synthetic cannabis does not show up in urine tests, and it is speculated that it cannot be detected by sniffer dogs [source].
According to Global Drug Survey,  more than 200 synthetic cannabinoids of varying branding and potency have emerged as potential alternative to natural marijuana within the last 3 years alone. They are typically sprayed on innocuous “herbal carrier” mixtures and sold as smoking blends or incense. Some synthetic cannabis brands have been banned by authorities, but several brands are legal in the US [source]. However, as hospital-related incidents are increasing in the United States, so is the crackdown on synthetic cannabis use.

Bans and Warnings for Synthetic Cannabis Use

On March 28, 2012, the state of New York made a bold move to ban the sale/use of synthetic cannabis, citing (among other things) that:
…synthetic cannabinoids have become prevalent drugs of abuse, especially among teens and young adults. Calls to New York State Poison Control centers relating to the consumption of synthetic cannabinoids have increased dramatically, with a total of 105 reported incidents of exposure to these substances having been reported since 2011, compared to four reported instances in 2009 and 2010.
On May 22, 2012, NBC 10 Philadelphia covered a news story about a local man who was arrested after crashing his vehicle into a utility pole before striking an oil tank, subsequently killing two passengers and injuring a third person. The cause of the accident? Police were able to determine that the suspect and some passengers were smoking K2, a brand of synthetic cannabis, inside of the vehicle.
Moving Past Drug Use
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[photo by miss.libertine on flickr]


  • Cannabis users find synthetic pot more harmful than natural weed | GuardianUK
  • Driver in deadly crash was smoking synthetic pot | NBC10
  • State of New York: Department of Health | Source
  • Synthetic cannabis | Wikipedia
  • Synthetic marijuana on the rise, sending kids to ER | Forbes
  • Synthetic marijuana usage alarms American pediatricians | MNT
  • Synthetic marijuana: What it is and why it should be banned | Forbes
  • What is synthetic pot, and why’s it causing heart attacks in teenagers? | Discover